Rep. Ryan On Occupy Protests, Income Inequality

Ari Shapiro talks with Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro. Renee Montagne is away and Steve Inskeep is at member station KQED.

Cities across the country are grappling with how to handle their local Occupy protests. When we asked House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan what he thinks of the movement, he had this to say.

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN: Well, as long as nobody gets hurt and nobody destroys private property or public property, it is perfectly fine and democratic for people to express their views.

SHAPIRO: One theme of the Occupy Movement is income inequality. It was also the subject of a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office, which found that the richest one percent of Americans more than doubled their share of income in the last three decades.

We asked Republican Congressman Ryan why that wealth is not translating into new jobs.

RYAN: I've toured over 200 businesses in my congressional district, asking this very question. And I get the same answer these days, uncertainty on taxes, uncertainty on regulations, uncertainty on debt. And therefore, borrowing costs, interest rates, things like that. There is so much government-produced uncertainty that it is putting a massive chilling effect on growth. I think that's something we can fix.

That's something we should be focusing on, as public policy leaders, to fix one of the sources of instability, of uncertainty, of one of the depressors of economic growth. And I think that's one of the chief among them.

SHAPIRO: You mentioned regulation. Just this week, the Treasury Department said that the industries that came under the most new regulations in recent years - energy, health - in fact, showed some of the highest earnings. According to the Treasury Department, they say this growth is inconsistent with a corporate sector that's held back by regulation. Explain why you disagree.

RYAN: Well, that's just not what I hear from my job creators in Wisconsin. Over 4200 regulations are coming out of the federal government this year. Over 3500 came out of the federal government last year. So, to me, businesses need to have some degree of certainty if they're going to plan and take a risk. We want to encourage risk-taking.

We want to encourage people to take their capital and put it to work, not put it in the bank, not put it in a bond. Put it in a factory. Put it in a business plan that increases employment.

SHAPIRO: Explain how cutting taxes for these companies that are making the kinds of profits they were making before the recession, will spur them to hire more people when they've got the money, right now, they're just doing the hiring.

RYAN: So I'm not suggesting we should cut taxes. I'm saying we should reform the tax system. Our proposal that we passed in the House budget in April, said get rid of the loopholes, lower everybody's tax rates because we'll have more growth, more tax compliance, and better competitive tax system.

SHAPIRO: You've said that you are a flat tax kind of guy. Are their deductions that you would keep? Or would you get rid of all deductions across the board?

RYAN: On the corporation's side, I would probably get rid of just about every one of them, and just have a clean system on the corporation side. I think expensing for plant equipment for manufacturers is the one thing that I think - it merits support.

SHAPIRO: What about on the individual side?

RYAN: On the individual side, I think the way we ought to do the transition to tax reform, is we just ought to have that, a transition. I think you could dislodge or hurt things like the real estate market if you cold turkey, going from one system to the other. So I think you need to have some kind of a transition period.

SHAPIRO: You know, tax policy has been getting a lot of attention in the Republican presidential race. How much have you consulted with the Republican presidential hopefuls on their various tax policies?

RYAN: Well, I talked to all of them. And they, more or less, have briefed me on what they're doing. I'm neutral in this race. I'm excited to see these plans come out because we're getting to the idea phase of the campaign. I think we want to get beyond a personality contest, beyond rewarding whoever gets the greatest zinger at the next debate, to what are your ideas, what are your solutions, and let's see how well you can articulate and defend your proposals.

SHAPIRO: So I know you're neutral. In the interest of encouraging good behavior, who would you applaud for taking an especially substantive approach to the campaign, as opposed to the more personality-driven politics that...

RYAN: Well, you know, look. Huntsman has put out a specific plan. He did it early. Herman Cain has. Rick Perry has. Mitt Romney has put out a specific idea, like a 59-point plan. I heard...

SHAPIRO: So basically, all of them?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RYAN: So I think they're coming. I think it's building. I think Herman Cain did a big service. You know, 9-9-9, everybody knows what that is. But what it has done is that it sort of triggered other candidates not to just stick to platitudes, but to put plans on the table and that's now beginning to happen. I think that's a good dynamic.

SHAPIRO: let's talk about the congressional supercommittee, 12 of your Republican and Democratic colleagues who are tasked with finding more than a trillion dollars in deficit reduction by Thanksgiving, otherwise deep cuts of that size go into effect.

Do you think there is a way for all 12 of them to get on board with a plan that does not include some measure of tax increases?

RYAN: Well, I don't know if you'll ever get in all 12-vote. That's probably...

SHAPIRO: A majority.

RYAN: But the Republican offer that was made does have revenue enhancements in it. It does have higher revenues. The question is, can you get seven or higher votes for something like that? Or will the Democrats - from our perspective - will the Democrats - are they insisting on such a huge tax increase that we just couldn't go along with?

The reason why, is we just were worried about the economy. And so, we'll just see. I really - I honestly just don't know the answer to your question.

SHAPIRO: The Republican presidential hopefuls were all asked whether they would sign on to a deal that included 10 parts cut...

RYAN: Yeah.

Yeah, that - I think that was more of a got-you kind of question, trying to get people to make it look like they'd violated some kind of pledge they may have taken. I don't look at ratios like that. I look at the compositions of the policies within a budget.

SHAPIRO: So you are not opposed to…

RYAN: Well, I would not - I would have said, look, I'm not going to play this game. I believe you can get higher revenues through tax reform and economic growth. And I think that's the way to do it, because you don't want to compromise job creation.

SHAPIRO: House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, thanks so much.

RYAN: Thanks for having me.

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