Politics

Ryan Says He and Trump Have Not Discussed Cutting Medicare

Speaker talks about how he and Trump decided to ’let bygones be bygones’

Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, says overhauling Medicare is not Congress’ top priority after President-elect Donald J. Trump takes office and that they haven’t even discussed it. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Since the election, Democrats have rung constant alarms about Republican designs on cutting Medicare. But Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Sunday that’s an option he hasn’t even discussed with President-elect Donald J. Trump.

In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Ryan said he wants to overhaul Medicare so that benefits will remain for future generations. But overhauling the big entitlement program is not at the top of the legislative agenda, Ryan said.

Infrastructure funding is one of the GOP’s “high priorities” and “on day one” Congress is going to start repealing burdensome regulations, Ryan said. 

But the overriding priority of the new Congress is repealing the 2010 health care law, Ryan said, reiterating what he and congressional Republicans have been saying for weeks.

“We have to make good on this promise,” he said. “We have to bring relief as fast as possible to people who are struggling under Obamacare.”

Ryan said there will be a transitional period before the law is fully repealed “so that people can get better coverage at a better price.” He said he did not know yet how long that period would last, noting it's a subject Republicans are discussing.   As Trump and others have promised, Ryan said parts of the health law assuring coverage for people with preexisting conditions and allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26 would be kept.

“We believe that we should have support based on age,” the speaker said. “The sicker and the older you get, the more support you ought to get. If you’re a person that has low income, you probably should have more assistance than a person with high income, for example.”

On taxes, Ryan said Trump’s plan resembles that of House Republicans and that individual and corporate rates would be lowered with the cost covered by eliminating “loopholes.”

Ryan was hesitant to commit to a specific rate structure, but noted that for individuals, House Republicans had been discussing collapsing the seven brackets into three with rates of 15 percent, 25 percent and 33 percent. The House GOP has proposed lowering the current 35 percent corporate rate to 20 percent, while Trump has proposed 15 percent, the speaker said.     

Asked if a GOP tax overhaul would largely benefit the rich, Ryan said, “Most of that income is small-business income. You have to remember, eight out of 10 businesses in America, they file their business as individuals, as people. And so we think of that as the rich. But it’s that business in the — in the business park out of Jamesville, Wisconsin, that has 50 employees.  And do I want to lower their tax rates? You bet I do.”

‘Surprised, Pleasantly So’

The speaker’s ambitious legislative agenda would not be possible if Trump had not won the White House, something Ryan acknowledged he wasn’t really expecting to happen.

“I thought the odds were clearly in [Hillary Clinton’s] favor,” he said. So I was a little surprised, pleasantly so.”

Ryan wasn’t even expecting Trump to win the GOP nomination.

“I don’t think most people in the country saw [that coming],” he said. “If you would’ve put last year into a movie script and taken it to Hollywood two years ago, they would’ve laughed you out of the room. Because it wouldn’t have been believable.”   During the campaign, Ryan and Trump had a tense relationship. The speaker withheld his endorsement of Trump for a month after he won the nomination.

Shortly after his endorsement, Ryan called Trump’s remark that a judge was biased because of his Mexican heritage “the textbook definition of a racist comment.” When Pelley told Ryan he called Trump a racist, Ryan responded, “No, I didn’t. I said his comment was.”

However you characterize it, Ryan never really cozied up to Trump during the campaign. And right before the speaker was ready to hold his first campaign appearance with the nominee, the 2005 video showing Trump talking about sexually assaulting women was released.

Ryan asked Trump not to come to Wisconsin for the campaign appearance and a few days later decided he would not stump for him at all for the remainder of the campaign. Ryan also decided to no longer defend Trump and simply stopped speaking about him in public until the final week of the campaign.

‘Let Bygones Be Bygones’

Despite the rocky start, Ryan said he and Trump have let go of any issues they once had.

“It was pretty much the day after the election — or maybe two days after the election,” he said. “And we basically decided to let bygones be bygones. ... And ever since then, we’ve had nothing but extremely productive conversations.”

Ryan said he and Trump call each other directly on their cell phones “all the time,” speaking almost daily for about 20 to 45 minutes per call.

Trump answers the phone with a simple “Hi, hello,” Ryan said. “He calls me Paul. I call him Mr. President-elect, ’cause I just — I have a reverence for the office. But yeah, he’s very casual about it.”

Although Trump has shown a propensity for heavy-handed tactics, Ryan says the president-elect respects the role of Congress and that they’ve “extensively” discussed Article I on the Constitution and the separate roles of the executive and legislative branches.  

“He feels very strongly, actually, that under President Obama’s watch, he stripped a lot of power away from the Constitution, away from the legislative branch of government,” Ryan said. “And we want to reset the balance of power, so that people and the Constitution are rightfully restored.”

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