House Speaker Paul Ryan (center) walks near the midsection of a 777 fuselage during a tour of the Boeing factory on Thursday in Everett. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Boeing wows Ryan: ‘I have never seen anything like this’

EVERETT — House Speaker Paul Ryan dropped by the Boeing plant in Everett on Thursday to pitch the Republican tax cut plan and wound up answering workers’ questions on the Export-Import Bank, GOP priorities in Congress and the president’s behavior.

Ryan toured the 767, 777 and 787 production lines before sitting down with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg for a 45-minute town hall attended by roughly 80 employees.

With an El Al Dreamliner behind them, Ryan argued that reducing the tax rate for businesses and simplifying the tax code for individuals will spur economic growth and give people greater confidence in the country.

“We have the least competitive tax system in the industrialized world,” he said, noting the United States taxes its businesses at much higher rates than other countries.

“When we tax ourselves a whole lot higher than they tax theirs, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot,” he said.

Ryan said the Republican plan would rewrite the tax code for individuals and families by reducing the number of brackets and deductions. As a result it would be “so simple you can fill out your returns on a post card,” he said.

Comprehensive tax reform is a policy priority of the Republican-led Congress and Republican President Donald Trump, Ryan said. It is a heavy political lift with the last overhaul occurring in 1986, the year he got his driver’s license. The goal is to get it done this year.

Boeing employee Krupal Desai, whose question got Ryan to share specifics on the proposed changes, said afterward it will be a challenge for the GOP, if successful, to prevent the tax code from getting so complicated again in 20 years.

“The key to me will be their discipline. Though he was a little short on details, I was reasonably impressed with his answer,” he said. “We work at Boeing. Details really matter.”

On other topics, Ryan told workers that his caucus’ priorities this year include regulatory reform, rebuilding the military, increasing vocational training and reducing the number of people on welfare.

One worker asked about the Export-Import Bank which Boeing counts on to help finance airplane sales to customers unable to tap conventional credit markets. But Ryan is a critic of the bank and has worked to limit its funding.

He said if Congress lowers taxes and reduces regulations for businesses then there might be less of a need for such a financing mechanism.

Muilenberg responded diplomatically: “We are going to continue to work on the Ex-Im Bank. We are going to continue to work together on that.”

While most questions focused on policy, one woman wanted to know about Ryan’s ability to affect the president’s behavior. Though there was no mention of the deadly protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, it was clearly the impetus.

“Boeing prides itself on respect and expects ethical behavior,” said the woman who declined to identify herself. “I don’t know that every person sees that from our president right now. How do you see yourself personally influencing, and are you confident that you can influence, the president?”

To which Ryan replied, “It’s a day-by-day deal,” adding quickly, “I’m kind of joking.”

He acknowledged “a difference in speaking styles” with the president but did not repeat his comments from earlier this week that Trump “messed up” in his initial responses to the violence in Charlottesville.

Afterward, the woman who asked the question said she thought it was a “canned answer” and hoped he would have talked about the manner in which he communicates with the president.

Ryan clearly enjoyed his visit to Boeing, telling workers more than once that he was impressed by what they do.

“I have never seen anything like this in my entire life. This is really, really cool,” he said.

Outside the Boeing plant, some marked Ryan’s visit with public demonstrations. About a dozen protesters huddled around a large, inflatable chicken with its comb a caricature of Trump’s signature hairstyle. Everett police and television camera crews stood by.

Among the protesters was Ray Miller, a Democrat from Marysville who is running for the Snohomish County Council. Ryan is threatening to reduce the social safety net while enriching the wealthy, Miller said.

“This is about equity and equality,” he said.

Most in the group were from Whidbey Island and Seattle, with organizations that brand themselves as resistance. Liz Vogeli, of Everett, who describes herself as an activist, saw Ryan’s visit as an insult to Boeing’s heavily unionized workforce, many of whom are women. She disagrees with the speaker’s outlook on labor and health care.

“Why on earth is Paul Ryan here?” she asked.

Michelle DeVillier, of Lynnwood, said she found Ryan’s proposed policies “abominable.”

U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., joined Ryan at the event at Boeing. Newhouse, who lives in Sunnyside, serves on the House Appropriations Committee and House Rules Committee.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, of Everett, whose district includes the Boeing plant, did not get invited.

Nor did fellow Democrat U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, who also represents part of Snohomish County. DelBene serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, which would handle any tax reform bills.

In a statement, she said she appreciated the speaker’s visit to the region and urged him to involve Democrats in the process, as occurred in 1986.

“There is no question that our tax laws are in desperate need of thoughtful reform. But comprehensive tax reform does not mean tilting the scale even more toward the wealthiest,” DelBene said.

“If he wants to accomplish something that has a real, lasting impact on families and businesses across the country, he should reach across the aisle and allow this to be a collaborative, open process that puts families, not politics, first,” she said.

Ryan’s stop at Boeing completed a two-day swing through the Pacific Northwest. On Wednesday, he held a similar-style town hall with workers at Intel Corp. in Hillsboro, Oregon.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; Twitter: @dospueblos..

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