LAWRENCE, Mass. — House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday pitched Republican plans for overhauling the nation’s tax code at a shoe factory, as demonstrators outside protested the Republican agenda of scrapping former President Barack Obama’s health care law and tax cuts.

House Speaker Paul Ryan listens to participants introduce themselves as he meets with local business leaders and politicians in a roundtable discussion at a New Balance athletic shoe factory in Lawrence, Mass. Associated Press/Stephan Savoia

Ryan traveled to this heavily Democratic state to promote one of President Trump’s top priorities, as congressional Republicans struggle to advance key parts of the president’s agenda.

Ryan delivered a stinging indictment of the current tax code, calling it inefficient, unfair and too complicated. He said the tax code puts U.S. businesses at a disadvantage against foreign competitors and overwhelms families who can’t fill out their own tax forms.

“Right now, we’ve got a tax code that no one really understands enforced by an agency that no one really likes – the IRS,” Ryan told a group of workers. “We’re going to simplify all of this.”

Ryan said Republicans are working to eliminate tax exemptions, deductions and credits and use the revenue to lower tax rates.

A House Republican plan would lower the top corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. Trump’s plan would lower it to 15 percent.

The White House and congressional Republicans have been privately negotiating their tax package for weeks, with no public sign that they’re near a consensus. Democrats have been excluded from the talks.

Overhauling the nation’s tax system has been a top priority for Republicans, but the stakes have been magnified as lawmakers struggle to repeal Obama’s health care law.

The last time Congress overhauled the tax system was in 1986, the same year Ryan got his driver’s license. Ryan pledged to pass a tax package this year.

“This is a once in a generation moment,” Ryan said. “It is time to cut taxes and simplify the code. It is time to create jobs and grow our economy. It is time to restore our nation to its full potential. It’s time to get this done.”

Ryan spoke after he toured New Balance’s sneaker factory. Outside, more than 100 demonstrators held signs and chanted: “Health care for all” and “No hate. No fear. Paul Ryan is not welcome here.”

The Massachusetts chapter of the Service Employees International Union, which represents health care workers, organized the rally.

The Rev. Laura Hoke of the Andover Unitarian Universalist Church called Ryan’s visit to Lawrence “pretty outrageous.”

“It’s baffling. They’re continuing to push this mythology that tax cuts for the rich will magically help the poor,” she said.

Hoke said Lawrence is among the cities that would be the most affected by Republican health care and immigration policies.

Protesters standing across the street from the New Balance factory in Lawrence protest the visit of House Speaker Paul Ryan Thursday. Associated Press/Stephan Savoia

Lawrence is a mostly blue-collar city where 75 percent of the residents are Latino. It’s about 30 miles north of Boston near the New Hampshire state line.

“We’re proud of New Balance and what it’s done in the community, but Paul Ryan doesn’t represent our values,” said Matt Bausemer, a 39-year-old voc-ed teacher who was wearing a pair of the company’s sneakers.

New Balance executives have been supportive of Republicans.

Jim Davis, the company’s billionaire owner, gave nearly $2 million during the last election to Republican candidates and political action committees across the country, federal campaign records show. He also has donated to Democrats.

New Balance was founded in 1906 in Boston, where it remains headquartered. It employs more than 6,000 workers and operates two factories in Massachusetts, three in Maine and one in the United Kingdom.