Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) new series of proposals -- released June 7 in a report commissioned by House Republicans titled “A Better Way to Fight Poverty” -- aims to restructure federal anti-poverty programs, but they heavily rely on myths commonly promoted by right-wing media outlets that mislead about poverty and shame the poor. On June 6, the Center for American Progress (CAP) released its own plan to reform and restructure anti-poverty programs in the United States, offering an example of what serious proposals look like when informed by serious economic research, rather than by right-wing media myths.
In the week since Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and the Republican-led Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility released their so-called anti-poverty agenda, titled “A Better Way to Fight Poverty,” journalists and experts heavily criticized the plan for rehashing “the same, stale, far-right ideas” pushed by Republicans in the past, and for ignoring basic facts about the inefficacy of these reforms.
WSJ Highlights Poll Showing Few Know Puerto Ricans Are U.S. Citizens Weeks After Slurring Them As "Refugees"
The disparity between The Wall Street Journal's objective news reporters and its right-wing editorial slant was on full display in a reporter’s blog post highlighting how few poll respondents can correctly identify Puerto Ricans as American citizens. The public's lack of awareness is no doubt fed by outlets like the Journal, which slurred Puerto Ricans as "refugees" in an editorial just five weeks ago.
A June 9 blog post in The Wall Street Journal from economics correspondent Nick Timiraos surmised that one of the challenges members of Congress face as they debate bipartisan legislation to help Puerto Rico stabilize and restructure billions of dollars of government debt is that so few of their constituents realize that Puerto Ricans are natural-born American citizens:
Pop quiz: What’s the national citizenship of people born in Puerto Rico to parents who were also born in Puerto Rico?
If you don’t know the answer to that question, you’re not alone. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but only 43% of Americans answered correctly in a recent Economist/YouGov poll. Some 41% said they were citizens of Puerto Rico, while another 15% weren’t sure.
The statistic underscores one challenge Congress has faced as it considers legislation to address the island’s debt crisis: The issue hasn’t been a high priority for lawmakers partly because their constituents aren’t aware that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.
There are many explanations for why 41 percent of respondents to an Economist/YouGov poll conducted in early May might have incorrectly thought Puerto Ricans are not American citizens. Perhaps the respondents had been reading The Wall Street Journal’s editorials, which on May 2 warned that the island’s debt crisis could create an “exodus” of “Puerto Rican refugees” to the United States mainland. The paper expressed outrage that these so-called “refugees” might “qualify for Medicaid, food stamps and public housing” and worst of all “be able to vote.”
Because Puerto Rico is not a state, its millions of residents do not have any representation in the Congress that will decide their fate -- the same is true for hundreds of thousands of Americans living in other U.S. territories, including Washington, D.C. The editors of the Journal were stoking anxiety that foreign immigrants might move to the United States to steal jobs and skew elections, but the fact is American citizens have the right to live and work wherever they choose in their own country.
Puerto Rico is an integral part of the United States and has been for nearly a century. Its residents have enjoyed birthright citizenship since March 2, 1917, thanks to the Jones-Shafroth Act. Full citizenship was later extended to “All persons born in Puerto Rico on or after April 11, 1899,” by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and the Republican-led Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility released the GOP’s latest policy plan to cut government anti-poverty assistance programs. Many of the arguments in favor of Ryan’s proposed reforms are based on easily debunked right-wing media myths and poor-shaming. Ryan’s rhetoric in this poverty “reform” agenda -- titled “A Better Way to Fight Poverty” -- is gentler than in his previous policy proposals. But his plans are still based on myths, and his solutions once again are focused on gutting vital programs designed to assist Americans struggling to make ends meet and families in need.
Ryan’s Agenda To Lift Americans Out Of Poverty Skips Over Raising Sub-Poverty Minimum Wages
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) concluded a June 7 press conference meant to highlight his recent proposals to reform federal anti-poverty programs by confirming that he remains opposed to initiatives aimed at raising local, state, and federal minimum wages. Ryan’s stated opposition to the minimum wage recycles easily debunked right-wing media myths about the supposed negative side-effects of living wages.
On June 7, the speaker released a report from the Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility. The plan outlines a number of standard conservative proposals to “reform” anti-poverty programs in the United States, but one thing it almost completely ignores is the minimum wage. In fact, the lone mention of the word “minimum wage” appears as part of an argument pushing the debunked “Welfare Cliff” myth, the claim that low-income, single moms are so heavily subsidized by government benefits that they have no incentive to pursue professional advancement.
At the conclusion of his press conference, Ryan was asked by two reporters to comment on a plan in Washington, D.C. to raise the municipal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020 and then index it to inflation. In just over a minute, Ryan proceeded to parrot numerous debunked charges commonly leveled against the minimum wage by right-wing antagonists. From CNN Newsroom:
Ryan’s anti-minimum wage talking points are either misleading, or outright false. Ryan also missed basic facts of D.C.’s minimum wage initiative, which the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) estimates will result in increased wages for one-fifth of the city’s private sector workers.
Ryan claimed that raising the minimum wage “prices entry-level jobs away from people” before engaging in the common right-wing media tactic of reciting a story of his own youthful experiences working in the fast-food industry.
Right-wing media frequently claim that minimum wage positions are meant to be entry-level jobs (usually just for teenagers), but the fact is that the majority of minimum wage workers are adults over the age of 25 and less than one-quarter of minimum wage workers are aged 16 to 19. Women make up a disproportionate number of minimum wage workers, and according to July 2015 research from EPI, stand to benefit considerably from an increased minimum wage.
Ryan claimed that working at McDonald’s was “a great way to learn skills,” a wage and job mobility myth about fast food workers frequently parroted by right-wing media. But according to a July 2013 report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), the fast-food industry is particularly bad at providing actual opportunities for advancement to low-wage workers. Entry-level workers account for 89 percent of fast food industry workers, and only a tiny fraction move on to management or ownership positions.
Ryan concluded his remarks by saying that he does not want to “cap” wages, he wants to “unleash” them, and institute policies that create “the kind of economy, and economic growth … that help get people better jobs, in a better economy, that has a more promising future for them.” Those claims echo a common right-wing media myth, that economic growth can indirectly lift millions of Americans out of poverty without the need for targeted programs.
But the budget, economic, and tax proposals Ryan and his fellow Republicans repeatedly support do not generate the economic growth they promise. The trickle-down economic principles he has spent a career endorsing are a proven failure.
If economic growth alone was the key to solving poverty and reducing economic inequality, both would have been wiped out decades ago. According to a January 29 report from the Brookings Institution, the relationship between economic growth and improved economic inclusion is “relatively weak” across the United States. The Brookings research seems to support a hypothesis endorsed by economists Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) and Elise Gould of the EPI, who argue that economic growth alone is not enough to reduce economic insecurity in the face of persistent inequality.
Media Should Question The Speaker And Presumptive GOP Nominee About The Compatibility Of Their Poverty Proposals
Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) have engaged in a war of words regarding Trump’s racist attack on the federal judge presiding over two class action lawsuits against Trump University. Despite the recent infighting, Trump and Ryan seem to agree in principle on the latter’s vision for a complete overhaul of federal anti-poverty programs. Reporters need to ask the Republican nominee, and the speaker, if the Ryan reform agenda is truly Trump-endorsed.
During an appearance on the June 5 edition of CBS’ Face the Nation, host John Dickerson asked Trump to comment on Ryan’s June 2 endorsement of his presidential candidacy. Trump responded that he found Ryan “appealing” because “he’s a good man” who “wants good things for the country.” Trump said that he expected to “agree on many things” with the highest-ranking elected Republican in the country, specifically citing Ryan’s positions on poverty:
Trump’s decision to bring up Ryan’s supposed zeal to “take people out of poverty” was no accident, as it had been widely reported that the speaker planned to roll out his renewed poverty reform agenda in the coming days. On June 7, Ryan released a report from the so-called Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility.
The report was nothing new for Ryan, closely echoing the positions espoused during the speaker’s sham poverty forum in January and his appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in March. It struck a softer tone than the overt poor-shaming Ryan has promoted in the past, but it still pushed the same kinds of policies that MSNBC’s Steve Benen previously slammed as “brutal” for the poor.
During Ryan’s June 7 press conference announcing the proposed poverty program reforms, he repeatedly stated that his plan would have “a better likelihood of passing” if Trump were president of the United States. From the June 7 edition of CNN Newsroom:
Media outlets are notorious for stumbling into the role of Ryan’s public relations outfit, frequently portraying his budget, economic, and tax reform policies as serious proposals rather than right-wing agenda items. The instinct to treat Ryan as a voice of reason has been particularly pronounced since the speaker decided to zero in on poverty.
Ryan has now formally endorsed Trump for president, and Trump has tacitly endorsed Ryan’s proposed reforms. Now that the final plan has been made public, reporters need to ask Trump if he actually endorses Ryan’s plan. And they should ask Ryan if he can accept the endorsement of a man whom he just accused of engaging in “the textbook definition of a racist comment” with his attacks on a Hispanic federal judge.
With Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan slated to release a new proposal to “reform” American anti-poverty programs on June 7, media should be aware of his long history of promoting “far-right” and “backward-looking” policies that would enact draconian cuts to vital programs for families in need and actually "exacerbate poverty, inequality, and wage stagnation."
Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and conservative media figures repeatedly enabled each other to spread baseless smears and outright lies throughout the Republican presidential primary election cycle. Voices in conservative media repeatedly legitimized Trump’s debunked conspiracies, policy proposals, and statistics, some of which echoed longtime narratives from prominent right-wing media figures.
Fox News Talks A Lot About Inequality And Poverty, But Promotes Policies That Would Make The Problems Worse
In the first quarter of 2016, prime-time and evening weekday news programs on the largest cable and broadcast outlets mentioned poverty during roughly 55 percent of their discussions of economic inequality in the United States. During the same time period, Sunday political talk shows mentioned poverty in only 33 percent of discussions of economic inequality.
Conservative economist Stephen Moore lambasted President Obama’s performance on the economy -- claiming the Obama administration accumulated too much debt and generated too little economic growth -- in an op-ed championing Donald Trump’s plan to cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations, which will drive up even more debt and is virtually guaranteed not to grow the economy.
Moore claimed in a May 10 op-ed published by USA Today that Donald Trump's tax plan is "designed to supercharge growth" and break with years of supposedly lackluster "Obamanomics." He chided Obama for presiding over "the weakest economic recovery in 75 years" and accumulating "almost $8 trillion" in national debt, even though the annual deficit has actually been decreasing since 2011, the unemployment rate has been cut in half since the president’s first year in office, and the economy has created 14.2 million jobs since the labor market bottomed out in early 2010. From USA Today:
It’s no mystery why. Obamanomics has given us the weakest economic recovery in 75 years. Wages are flat or falling for all but those in the top 10%. And our national debt has risen by almost $8 trillion in seven years.
The Trump tax plan is designed to supercharge growth, much like President Kennedy did in the 1960s and President Reagan did in the boom years of the 1980s with their tax reductions.
The biggest deficit we need to urgently fix is our growth deficit. We must pump up our GDP growth from the anemic 1% rate of Obama’s past six months up to a sustained 4% under Trump. Just 2% faster growth reduces our budget deficit over a decade by more than $5 trillion.
Liberal economists pout that this growth is impossible for America, but that’s what people said in the miserable 1970s. Reagan (and JFK before him) proved that with the right policy incentives that get government off the back of business, a new era of prosperity is just around the corner.
Moore advocated for Trump’s tax plan as an alternative to Obama’s economic record, a plan that even the most generous estimates show will produce larger budget deficits and greater debt accumulation than witnessed during the Obama administration. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center (TPC) and the conservative Tax Foundation each scored Trump’s tax plan and found that it would explode the deficit by $9 to $12 trillion over the next decade, on top of $9.4 trillion in projected deficits at current spending levels. The Tax Foundation’s analysis further claimed that Trump’s tax plan would boost investment and wage growth while creating up to 5.3 million new jobs, but those figures come from a so-called “dynamic” scoring model that has been criticized for overestimating the stimulative value of tax cuts.
Moore’s claim that Trump’s tax plan would create 4 percent economic growth is reminiscent of claims by failed Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, which experts quickly dismissed as “nonsense” and “wizardry.” According to a September 2014 report from the Brookings Institution, tax cuts do not necessarily create economic growth and they can even discourage growth by undermining economic incentives to invest. A September 2012 report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which was suppressed by Senate Republicans, similarly found no correlation between tax cuts and economic growth, but it did caution that tax cuts for high-income individuals “appear to be associated” with rising inequality.
Moore has a long and well-documented history of distorting facts on the economy. Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who has spent years documenting Moore's repeated failures in economic policy, recently slammed the right-wing commentator’s "impressive lack of even minimal technical competence."
Over the course of the 2016 presidential primary, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has laid forth a series of problematic policy proposals and statements -- ranging from his plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States to his suggestion that the United States default on debt -- that media have warned to be “dangerous,” “fact-free,” “unconstitutional,” “contradictory,” “racist,” and “xenophobic.” Media Matters compiled an extensive list of Trump’s widely panned policy plans thus far along with the debunks and criticism from media figures, experts and fact-checkers that go along with them.
Politico reported that Donald Trump is tapping conservative economic pundits Stephen Moore and Larry Kudlow to assist in remaking the presumptive Republican nominee’s tax plan, which has been lambasted as a budget-busting giveaway to high-income earners and corporations. Media should be aware that both Moore and Kudlow have long histories of playing fast and loose with the facts while making outlandish and incorrect claims about the economy.
Follow-Up Questions Catch Presumptive Republican Nominee Backpedaling On Debt Reduction Plans
Donald Trump called in to CNBC and outlined a plan to partially default on the United States’ outstanding sovereign debt obligations in hopes of eventually negotiating lower rates of repayment -- an action that would likely lead to a global financial crisis. Four days later, Trump claimed in a phone interview on CNN that the media had “misrepresented” his statement and that the United States would never default because the government could “print the money” needed to pay down the national debt. Printing away sovereign debt is theoretically possible, but members of the media have been quick to point out this supposed solution would also harm the economy and may even cause runaway inflation.
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