Speaker Ryan touts tax cuts in talk at Home Depot center in Atlanta

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that last year’s dramatic tax cuts have fueled the kind of economic activity he had hoped for, but he declined to predict that it would be good enough for growth to hit 3 percent this year.

Speaking at a Home Depot Store Support Center near Vinings, the 10-term Wisconsin Republican said the cuts had meant larger paychecks for 90 percent of American workers, a rising confidence in the economy and enhanced investments by business.

“What is now happening in America is what we were hoping to see happen when we passed tax reform,” he said, speaking to about 100 employees, virtually all wearing the Atlanta-based firm’s trademark orange vests.

The visit to Atlanta comes as part of the GOP campaign to tout the tax bill’s economic benefits as the nation wends its way steadily toward midterm elections. However, in a brief session later with reporters, Ryan balked at matching predictions made by the Trump administration that the tax changes to the economy would mean robust growth of more than 3 percent.

“I think we’ve got a good chance of it,” he said. “I don’t want to make predictions.”

The growth rate during the last quarter of 2017 was 2.5 percent, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The massive tax cuts passed late last year have been — thus far — the signature accomplishment of the Trump administration. They had long been at the top of Ryan’s legislative to-do list, which has also included repealing the Affordable Care Act, a goal that remains undone.

Citing the tax cuts as a promise of enhanced profits, Home Depot in January announced it was giving many employees a one-time bonus of $1,000. Home Depot, which has annual revenue of about $100 billion, was one of many firms announcing a bonus and tying it to the tax cuts.

Ryan had come to Atlanta just for the afternoon, with the Home Depot visit the only announced stop. Ryan took in a product demonstration, spoke to employees who are active in Home Depot’s political action committee, then took reporters’ questions for about 10 minutes.

He was joined at Home Depot by most of Georgia’ GOP congressional delegation, including U.S. Reps. Doug Collins, Karen Handel and Barry Loudermilk.

Ryan’s visit to Home Depot overlapped with President Donald Trump’s tariff announcements. The president imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum but issued exemptions for Mexico and Canada.

Ryan has been critical of the idea, which Trump says is needed to protect American workers who make steel and aluminum.

“I actually think that there’s a better way to go after unfair trade practices, and that is to go after them specifically,” Ryan told Home Depot employees. “The best policy is to be surgical.”

He issued tempered praise for the president’s pronouncement Thursday. “The more surgical we can get the better,” he said. “I think it is prudent and wise to exempt our allies in North America.”

Ryan said the number of workers who produce steel and aluminum is dwarfed by the number of workers in industries that consume steel and aluminum. Those businesses would face higher prices — costs that would either shrink their profits or force them to charge more for their products.

Later, Ryan issued a statement saying he disagreed with the president’s actions.

Economists and businesses in Georgia have expressed fear that tariffs would hurt the state’s economy.

Home Depot has about 406,000 employees, including about 20,000 in metro Atlanta. It operates 62 stores in metro Atlanta and nearly 2,300 overall.

Before talking to employees, Ryan was shown several items that the company sells, a demonstration offering evidence of the world’s globalization. The first was an Ego weed-trimmer that’s made by Chevron, which is based in China.

In contrast, the second tool was a cordless power supply made by DeWalt, which is based in Baltimore.

Inquiring about the source of the tools, Ryan said, “I’m a Milwaukee guy.”

Ryan deflected questions about the state’s decision to punish Delta Air Lines for its cancellation of a discount for members of the National Rifle Association. “I am not going to comment on something I don’t know about.”

He went on to say that Congress is considering action in the aftermath of the massacre at a Florida high school. “I think the focus on the NRA is overblown and misguided.”

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