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House Speaker Paul Ryan promises major tax reform in 2017

Gary Cohn, Trump economic adviser
The Democrat behind Trump's tax plan 04:55

House Speaker Paul Ryan vowed to overhaul the tax code by the end of the year despite political divisions among Republicans and a crowded legislative agenda for Congress.

"After years of talking about problems, we're finally doing something about them," said Ryan.

In a speech on tax reform Tuesday afternoon to the National Association of Manufacturers, the Speaker said Republicans, who control Congress and the White House, have a rare opportunity to rewrite the tax code.

"We are going to get this done in 2017. We have to get this done in 2017. We cannot let this once-in-a-generation moment slip by," Ryan said. "Transformational tax reform can be done, and we are moving ahead -- full speed ahead."

Ryan warned against casting about for "quick fixes and half-measures" and "waiting for a path free of obstacles" that does not exist. 

"The defenders of the status quo, and there are many of them, they're counting on us to lose our nerve, to fall back or to put this off altogether," cautioned Ryan. "The cynics and naysayers are going to be out in full force. Do not be surprised."

Tuesday's remarks built on themes raised the "Confident America" speech he delivered shortly after taking the role as House Speaker, where he made the case for permanent tax reform — rather than a temporary tax cut.

"Temporary reforms will only have a negligible impact on wages and growth," said Ryan. He added that businesses need the "certainty of permanent tax cuts" to help plan for the future.

Ryan supports a new tax on imports to help finance a lower overall tax rate for corporations, and to encourage U.S. companies to stay in the United States. The tax, however, has no support in the Senate and is vigorously opposed by retailers who worry that it will increase the cost of consumer goods.

Moving toward a territorial system, Ryan argued, would help enable businesses to bring back cash "stranded overseas" without imposing a tax.

Ryan said the current tax code has remained "stuck in neutral," but applauded President Trump's principles for tax reform, which he says the House and Senate are currently working to turn into a "transformational tax reform plan."

The Speaker chose the National Association of Manufacturers as the venue for the speech because, Ryan said, "Few industries have demonstrated so much resilience or have as much stake in our economic debate as American manufacturing."

Republicans are planning to move a tax package using a procedural tactic that will require only a simple majority in the Senate — preventing Democrats from blocking it. Under the procedure, the tax package cannot add to long-term budget deficits. That means that for every tax cut, there has to be an offset, at least over the long term.

In order to take advantage of the procedure, Republicans in the House and Senate must pass a budget resolution. That won't be easy because Republicans disagree among themselves about spending levels for the military and for domestic programs.

"These are anxious times, we all feel it," noted Ryan. "We are being tested, our capacity to come together and always move forward toward a better stronger nation is being tested."

The legislative calendar is also crowded with other challenging initiatives, among them, repealing and replacing Obamacare. The House has already passed a bill, but it was not well-received in the Senate.

Ryan addressed the ongoing health care debate in Tuesday's remarks, saying lawmakers are currently engaged in "nothing short of a rescue mission to bring relief to Americans struggling" under the Affordable Care Act. 

Congress is facing an Oct. 1 deadline to fund the government, and some time this fall, lawmakers will have to raise the debt ceiling or risk an unprecedented default.

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