CLINTON - With what's expected to be a hotly-contested 2018 election cycle nearing kick-off, Rock County Republicans heard from top GOP state and federal leaders Saturday at a party gathering in Clinton.
Over 200 current and prospective members, residents and GOP officials were on hand to hear from U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, Wisconsin State Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, and Wisconsin State Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, on the ongoing push to pass Republican-backed legislation and reforms heading into 2018 elections.
Ryan and the state leaders declined to speak with media or answer questions following Saturday's event.
Ryan covered a range of issues including the U.S. House and Senate plans to reform national tax codes; cut federal regulations on businesses; and slash welfare benefits to incentivize work and self-reliance.
Ryan speculated Congress will push hard for income tax reform this fall.
He also reflected on the uniqueness of Republicans controlling the House, Senate and White House, conceding Democratic interests would fight hard to win back control. Ryan went on to say that, on average, first term elections following the election of a new U.S. president see up to 32 seats in either house of Congress change hands, and he stressed the need for the Republican base to stay active to preserve gains made in last year's general elections.
"We have this chance and opportunity in front of us that we cannot let slip through our fingers," Ryan said. Looking at tax reform, Ryan said Republicans in Congress seek to "totally overhaul" the Internal Revenue Service, modify business tax codes to allow companies to write off investments and turn the IRS into "a servicing agency."
Changes to the federal welfare system are also being sought by congressional Republicans, looking to reorganize and examine 72 federally-funded welfare programs.
"We need another round of welfare reform, and we've got to stop deincentivizing work. We have to move people from welfare to gainful employment and have a system that always makes work pay," Ryan said.
Both tax and welfare reform will be consolidated into a reconciliation bill to be voted on in the Senate later this year, since a reconciliation bill cannot be filibustered by either party. The same is expected for the massive effort to overhaul health care and the Affordable Care Act, which the House voted on last month. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has not set a timeline for a vote after pushing the measure back until after the July 4 recess due to insufficient Republican support.
"It's not easy with a narrow 52-seat majority," Ryan added. "We are hopeful that (the Senate) will get that done."
Both Nass and Loudenbeck ran through some key Republican-backed legislation changes from this year's state session. No state budget has been passed due to an impasse over education, transportation and insurance policies, and no special caucus date has been set to discuss a fiscal plan.
"We're at odds with each other, and that's not necessarily a bad thing," Nass said. "I think it's good to have the discussion and disagreement."
Nass touted a Senate bill that reined in government regulations and a plan that forbids assessors from entering homes to assess property values after the Supreme Court ruled against the move. He also supported Gov. Scott Walker's University of Wisconsin system tuition freeze, which could see an average savings of $8,000 per student, he added.
Loudenbeck touched on the state's currently low unemployment rate, contrasted with a high work participation rate and discussed legislation she drafted that eliminated work permit requirements for older teens.
All officials urged residents to stay active ahead of next year's elections.
"Make sure you are committed to a few hours or days between now and November of next year because that will make all the difference," Loudenbeck said. "It really does take everybody."
For more information on the Rock County GOP, visit rockcountygop.com.