During a press conference on Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) was asked what he thought about the sweetheart deal President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence struck with United Technology to keep about 1,000 Carrier manufacturing jobs in Indiana in exchange for millions of dollars in incentives.
“Well I’m pretty happy that we’re keeping jobs in America, aren’t you?” Ryan said to a reporter, adding that he couldn’t speak to the specifics of the deal, which won’t prevent 1,300 Carrier jobs from relocating to Mexico from Indiana. “I think it’s pretty darn good that people are keeping their jobs in Indiana instead of going to Mexico.”
Ryan’s response was a significant departure from what he’s said in the past about deals like the Carrier one. On Tax Day last year, Ryan released a statement blasting President Obama for allegedly wanting to provide “special carve-outs to his favorite industries.”
“Our tax code should not pick winners and losers,” Ryan wrote on behalf of a “simpler, flatter” tax code. “Our country can’t reach its potential with a tax code that punishes people for reaching their own.”
Ryan reiterated that sentiment in a video clip he shared to Twitter in July.
Elites in Washington should NOT be picking winners & losers—that’s a recipe for a closed economy—for cronyism.https://t.co/AcHJfVRwTE
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) July 28, 2016
Even supporters of the Carrier deal acknowledge the approach Trump and Pence have taken is unsustainable. Scott Paul, president of the advocacy group the Alliance for American Manufacturing, told the New York Times that “Carrier is special because it happened at the right time and the right place and it gained a high profile. But obviously, Donald Trump and Mike Pence can’t intervene every time a plant closes.”
That same Times report — entitled “Trump Saved Jobs at Carrier, but More Midwest Jobs Are in Jeopardy” —quotes Jerry N. Conover, director of the Indiana Business Research Center at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, as saying that while the deal is huge for Carrier workers who will keep their jobs, “by itself, the disappearance or retention of 1,000 jobs is a small slice of the total economy in Indiana.”
In fact, during the campaign, Trump himself criticized government officials for naively thinking that providing economic incentives to corporations keeps jobs in the United States — the exact approach he’s now taking with Carrier.
“They’ve tried low interest loans, they’ve tried zero interest loans — these companies, they don’t need money.” Trump told Meet the Press’ Chuck Todd in July.
Four months and an election victory later, Trump and Pence now have no problem using their political power to pick economic winners and losers, and Ryan, in a break from precedent, is fine with that. With Republicans poised to assume control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, perhaps remaining true to principle is less important for Ryan these days than staying in Trump’s good graces in hopes he’ll finally be able to gut Medicare.