BALTIMORE—House Republicans sought to come of age the past few days at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. During their annual policy retreat, an introspective Republican caucus took up the question posed by House Speaker Paul Ryan: “How do we offer the country a very clear and compelling choice?”
At issue is the legislative direction Republicans will take to distinguish themselves from Democrats.
For Ryan, 2016 is all about ideas.
“We’ve been talking about how to go on the offensive on ideas,” Ryan told reporters at a press conference Friday as the three-day event at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront ended. “Because if we don’t like the direction the country’s going, we have an obligation to offer an alternative.”
But while lawmakers from both chambers of Congress got into the policy weeds during the closed-door discussions, House leadership offered a broad portrait of its policy agenda.
Three days after President Obama delivered his final State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, Ryan outlined five targets for Republican reform. In doing so, the Wisconsin Republican fleshed out the “bold, pro-growth agenda” he promised as he assumed the speakership in October and in a Library of Congress address in December.
- National Security
First on Ryan’s list: calming the nerves of Americans who he said “are very anxious right now, and rightfully so.”
The speaker said Republicans would take up the question of “building a 21st-century military,” one capable and equipped “to defeat ISIS and the threat posed by radical Islamic terrorism.”
- Jobs and Economic Growth
Though the White House boasts that the nation added 14 million jobs in two years, a bullish Ryan said the “economy is far from reaching its potential.” He said:
Wages are still stagnant. Families are still hurting. People are working harder than ever before, but they feel they’re slipping farther behind.
Ryan offered a brief blueprint of Republicans’ planned economic action: “Fix the tax code,” “rein in the regulatory state,” and “maximize the nation’s energy potential.”
- Health Care
A week after Obama vetoed a bill that would have gutted his signature health care law, Ryan renewed the Republican mantra of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare:
Obamacare has taken us down the wrong path: higher prices, higher deductibles, fewer choices, restricted access. How do we not only repeal this law, but what solutions lead us to a lower cost and a truly patient-centered health care system?
- Poverty and Opportunity
Ryan continued his push to win the 50-year-old “War on Poverty” with conservative principles but balked at what he considers a broken welfare system.
“Right now, we have a safety net that is designed to catch people falling into poverty when what we really need is a trampoline that gets people out of poverty and into lives that they want for themselves,” he said.
- Restoring the Constitution
Ryan also talked political philosophy, describing the Constitution as a “beautiful system of rules” that remains “so critical” to achieving his vision.
“We are a country founded on an idea. And our rights don’t come from government. Our rights come from God. Our rights are natural,” he said.
He praised a political system that preserves liberty and freedom “so that we can exercise those rights.”
Taking aim at the president, Ryan said the “overreach” that defined the past seven years of the Obama administration “has undermined the Constitution” and “damaged the people’s trust.”
Conservatives have criticized Obama’s executive actions on everything from health care and education to immigration and gun control.
“People, more and more, don’t trust our government, and it’s because we’ve deviated from the Constitution,” he said.