Speaker Ryan, Adrift in Massachusetts

AP Photo/Stephan Savoia

House Speaker Paul Ryan addresses workers at a New Balance athletic shoe factory after he toured the factory floor in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

House Speaker Paul Ryan switched gears on Thursday to talk about something completely different: “Made in America Week” and federal tax code reform—two of the GOP’s current talking points as their lawmakers scurry to change the subject from their own Made in Washington health-care debacle.

President Donald Trump launched “Made in America Week” at the White House, displaying such products as door hinges, crab pots, and brooms wholly manufactured stateside. Placing the event in the proper temporal context, The Guardian described the 50-state showcase as a “museum of American capitalism.” Meanwhile, the president posed gleefully with fire engines from Wisconsin and wore a Stetson cowboy hat from Texas. Truth is indeed stranger than fake news.

Fresh off his sundry attempts to roll back health care, Speaker Ryan decided to go the president one better by heading into the deep-blue Massachusetts, stomping grounds of the progenitors of Obamacare, to deliver his own “Made in America” greetings and tax chat. He extolled the virtues of tax reform to a crowd of politely applauding factory workers at the immigrant-founded New Balance athletic shoe company in Lawrence, a majority Latino city in northern Massachusetts. Nicknamed “The Immigrant City,” the former mill town was the site of the historic 1912 Bread and Roses strike, when the town’s largely Italian, Polish, and Lithuanian immigrant workforce protested their abysmal working conditions and pay. No less an immigrant city today, Lawrence filed suit against the Trump administration to forestall an executive order that would force local law enforcement to cooperate with ICE on tracking down undocumented immigrants.

A group of about 200 protesters organized by a local of the SEIU protested the Speaker’s visit.

The Reverend Laura Hoke of the Andover Unitarian Universalist Church told the Associated Press that Ryan's trip to Lawrence was "pretty outrageous." “They're continuing to push this mythology that tax cuts for the rich will magically help the poor," she said.

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera, a Democrat, termed Ryan’s visit and thematics “weird.” “It’s ‘Made in America’ week,” Rivera told The American Prospect. “Is it though? I’m pretty sure it’s still Russia and health-care week.”

Things quickly got weirder for the man next in line after Vice President Pence to succeed to the presidency. Before he could get to his talking points, Ryan had to reckon with New Balance CEO Jim Davis. Although Davis, who has made campaign contributions to both Trump and Ryan as well as to Democratic candidates, expressed high hopes that tax reform could spell the beginning of a new way forward in Washington, his remarks seemed tinged with more than a little buyer’s remorse.

“Let us hope that we can reincarnate the era of Speaker Tip O’Neill, a Massachusetts Democrat and Ronald Reagan, a California Republican, when admiration, mutual respect, and friendship prevailed, our country prospered, and we dreamed of a bright future when bipartisanship was the norm and not the exception,” Davis said. “Bring back the American Way and let’s get things done.” Like any good guest, Ryan politely smiled and nodded throughout Davis’s verbal chastisement.

In his remarks, Ryan hit all the familiar conservative Republican themes. The United States has “the worst tax code in the industrialized world,” he said, and labeled the (nominal) tax rates of 35 percent for corporations and nearly 45 percent for some businesses as “unconscionable,” when competitors in Canada, Ireland, India, England, and even China have dramatically lower rates. Lower taxes for corporations, he claimed, would persuade companies to return the profits they have stashed overseas and reinvest in America, a pure trickle-down fantasy if there ever were one. Republicans have proposed reducing the corporate income tax to 20 percent, while Trump wants to see it lowered to 15 percent.

Turning to a familiar villain, the Internal Revenue Service, Ryan said that Republican tax cuts would ensure that workers keep more of their paychecks while also abolishing “death taxes” and consolidating and doubling standard deductions. But he saved his best for last: Americans would no longer have to use tax preparers because they’d be able to file their taxes on a postcard-sized form.

Rivera, who spoke briefly with Ryan before heading off to the site of a three-alarm house fire, viewed the tax discussion as an “accounting” issue. In one of the poorest cities in the Bay State where more than 70 percent of residents are Latino, and 30 percent of residents live in poverty, he expressed frustration with the Trump administration’s stances on immigration and health care. “It’s a conversation that turns Americans on Americans,” said Rivera, whose single mother immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic. “People who are documented and undocumented are afraid.” The mayor also noted that although Obamacare appears “safe for now,” congressional Republicans could regroup and come up with yet another attempt to undermine the law, which would have a devastating impact on the poor and the elderly in the city.

Rivera said that he is mystified by Ryan’s motivations and those of his Republican allies. “Isn’t it incredibly unsatisfying to go to work every day to knock things down—don’t you want to make things better than you found it?” he asked. “Don’t you want to fix health care? [And] fix immigration, not just do away with it? Any jackass can knock down a barn; it takes a carpenter to build one.”

According to The Boston Globe, after leaving Lawrence, Ryan planned to attend a fundraiser on the island of Nantucket, one of the state’s wealthiest communities. Not surprisingly, Republican Governor Charlie Baker, who has opposed the Trump administration’s health-care moves and is up for re-election in 2018, did not attend Ryan’s Lawrence event. 

Tax Cuts for the rich. Deregulation for the powerful. Wage suppression for everyone else. These are the tenets of trickle-down economics, the conservatives’ age-old strategy for advantaging the interests of the rich and powerful over those of the middle class and poor. The articles in Trickle-Downers are devoted, first, to exposing and refuting these lies, but equally, to reminding Americans that these claims aren’t made because they are true. Rather, they are made because they are the most effective way elites have found to bully, confuse and intimidate middle- and working-class voters. Trickle-down claims are not real economics. They are negotiating strategies. Here at the Prospect, we hope to help you win that negotiation.

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