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Ryan Opening Statement: Moving America Forward

January 13, 2015

WASHINGTON — Today, Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) delivered the following opening statement at the first Committee proceedings of the 114th Congress, “Moving America Forward.” The meeting is focused on the state of the U.S. economy and policies that can promote job creation and economic growth.

“Let me start by introducing our panel: Dr. Holtz-Eakin is president of the American Action Forum and former director of CBO. Professor Feldstein is former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Reagan. And Professor Johnson is a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. I want to thank you all for sharing your time with us, and we look forward to hearing your testimony.

“Now, we wanted to hold this hearing because—the way I see it—our mission this year is to move America forward. And this committee is going to be command central. We’re going to lead the charge on some of the biggest issues facing our economy: tax reform, trade agreements, health care. And our thinking was, let’s get a lay of the land. Before we can set things right with the economy, we’ve got to understand what’s going wrong with the economy.

“So how are we doing? Well, we just got some good news. Jobs are up. But this bit of news looks good only because the rest of the news has been so bad for so long. There’s no getting around the fact that this is the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression. If our economy had grown at the pace of the average post-war recovery, GDP would be about $5,700 more per-person.

“Paychecks haven’t budged. And more people have given up looking for work. In fact, there have never been more people out of the labor force than there are today: over 92 million people. As one person in a recent focus group told NBC News, ‘If you want to make $9 an hour, you can go get a job, but if you want to make a wage that can support your family, good luck.’

“In other words, this latest jobs report is simply the nicest car in the junkyard.

“This administration’s policies have pushed people off the field. What we need to do is take people off the sidelines. Get them back into the economy—working, learning, building, creating—and we’ll expand opportunity for all Americans.

“And that’s the second reason for this hearing: We want to start laying out solutions. This committee has already done a lot of work on that front. And this year, we’re going to build on those gains. The fact is, we know what it will take to turn things around. We just need to put those ideas to work.

“For instance, it’s very clear our tax code is broken. We have the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world. We’re one of the few countries that taxes companies when they bring money back home. And the tax code is so complex that Americans spend over 6 billion hours a year just filing their returns.

“There’s no good reason for any of this. We need to make the tax code simpler, fairer, and flatter, so more people can invest and create jobs right here in America. We also have a good opportunity to expand markets for American exports. We’re negotiating several big trade agreements right now.

“And the first thing we have to do is pass Trade Promotion Authority. TPA would empower Congress to set our negotiating objectives and hold the administration accountable. TPA would also help us get the best deal from our trading partners.

“As we all know, 96 percent of the world’s consumers—they don’t live here. They live in other countries. And U.S. manufacturers have a more than $50 billion surplus with trade-agreement countries. In contrast, the U.S. trade deficit in manufacturing goods with the rest of the world was more than $500 billion.

“And I believe Americans can compete with any country; we just need to give them a chance. Break down these barriers, and American trade—along with American jobs—will take off.

“We also need to repeal and replace Obamacare with patient-centered reforms. It may take a new president to fully repeal the law. This is something we’ve litigated a lot on this committee, and I know people feel differently. But this is how we feel. We can start to dismantle it piece by piece. We’ve already passed three bills to do just that. The point is, take power away from bureaucrats and give it back to patients. That’s how we can make health care more affordable.

“We have to get spending under control so our country will no longer live under the threat of a debt crisis.

“And, finally, we have to get people out of poverty. We have to restore upward mobility. The condition of your birth doesn’t determine the outcome of your life. We have to help more people get from welfare to work. There’s a lot of untapped potential in our country, and this committee has a real opportunity to help working families get ahead.

“That’s what this committee is going to be about: moving America forward.

“So, I’ve laid out just a few ideas to get the conversation started. Some will agree, some may not. I look forward to hearing from our members and witnesses. Everybody will have different ideas. But I think we can all agree that building a healthy economy is our mission this year. That is our focus. That is our goal—because that is what the American people deserve.”