Media Should Be Wary Of Speaker Ryan's Renewed Interest In Poverty

On January 9, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan will host a presidential candidate forum in Columbia, South Carolina focused on poverty. As media outlets prepare to cover the event, will they remember that despite Ryan's gentler language, he has a history of promoting budget and fiscal policies that would harm Americans struggling with poverty?

Speaker Paul Ryan To Moderate Presidential Candidate Forum On Poverty

Ryan Will Moderate GOP's Poverty Forum With Sen. Tim Scott. On January 5, the Charleston, South Carolina Post and Courier highlighted that Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) will moderate a presidential candidate forum along with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). The Post and Courier claimed that the participating Republican presidential candidates “are not coming to trade barbs” but to bring “ideas about how to solve ... challenges facing our country.” The Post and Courier went on to describe Speaker Ryan's poverty proposals, which would gut public assistance programs, as “innovative ideas to break the cycle of poverty”:

On Saturday morning, seven Republican presidential candidates are scheduled to gather in Columbia for the Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity. They are not coming for a prime-time television debate. They are not coming to trade barbs.

Instead, they're bringing their ideas about how to solve the most vexing and important challenges facing our country -- how to preserve an America in which opportunity still lives, and in which every citizen can truly reach their potential.

This event, hosted by the Jack Kemp Foundation and sponsored by Opportunity Lives in partnership with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Economic Innovation Group, is designed to give these candidates a chance to share their vision about how they intend to create an environment in which every citizen can flourish. The audience will also have a chance to hear from community leaders and academics from around the country who have important insights about how to combat poverty in practical ways.

One of the moderators will be House Speaker Paul Ryan, the nation's highest-ranking Republican elected official, and a former aide to the late Rep. Jack Kemp (not to mention a veteran of the campaign trail himself). Joining the speaker as a moderator will be U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, who has made increasing opportunity for all a cornerstone of his tenure as South Carolina's first African-American senator since Reconstruction.

In the Senate, Sen. Scott has championed efforts to expand job training and apprenticeship opportunities. On the other side of the capitol, in the House, Speaker Ryan has been known for offering innovative ideas to break the cycle of poverty in America. These two legislators are examples of forward thinkers -- the kind of leaders who are not afraid to look outside the box for solutions because they know people matter more than politics. They'll also be joined by Gov. Nikki Haley, a governor who has worked to bring jobs and reform education for South Carolinians. [The Post and Courier, 1/5/16]

Media Have Acted As Public Relations Arm For Paul Ryan's Poverty Tour For Years

CBS and ABC Failed To Question Speaker Ryan On His Opposition To Paid Family Leave. On November 1, 2015, Rep. Paul Ryan appeared on CBS' FaceThe Nation and ABC's This Week to discuss policy prospects following his elevation to Speaker of the House. Neither outlet questioned the new speaker on paid family leave, a policy Ryan has long opposed. Before agreeing to become a candidate for the open speakership, Ryan had stated he would not “give up [his] family” to fulfill the scheduling obligations of outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), asserting he must be able to take time for family matters. In light of these statements, multiple advocacy organizations criticized Ryan for wanting paid leave for himself and not others. EMILY's List stated that Ryan is “totally in favor of family-friendly workplace policies for Speakers of the House named Paul Ryan,” but not for other hardworking Americans. To their credit, NBC's Meet The Press, Fox Broadcasting's Fox News Sunday, and CNN's State Of The Union did ask the Speaker about his opposition to paid family leave. [Media Matters, 11/1/15]

Fox's Chris Wallace Claimed Paul Ryan Was An Example Of A Republican “Talking About Bringing People Out Of Poverty.” On the January 22, 2015 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, co-host Jon Scott and Fox News anchor Chris Wallace championed Republican efforts to alleviate income inequality, claiming that “building the middle class and income disparity” is a “growing issue” for Republicans. Wallace pointed to Rep. Paul Ryan as an example of a Republican who has been “talking about bringing people up from poverty.” The hosts also used the opportunity to criticize President Obama's plan to address income inequality and blame him for persistent economic inequality that predated his presidency. [Fox News, Happening Now, 1/22/15]

WSJ Highlighted Ryan's Work For Benefits Program, While Failing To Ask What Happens To Those Who Cannot Find Work. On July 24, 2014, The Wall Street Journal reported on Paul Ryan's plan to consolidate 11 federal government assistance programs into block grants to the states. Ryan's plan for the grants would attach even more stringent work requirements to benefit programs. The Journal highlighted Ryan's proposals, but failed to question what would happen to those who could not find work or fell short of the new work requirements, instead focusing on what it perceived as token liberal opposition to lumping federal assistance programs into so-called “block grants” to states:

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan is proposing to consolidate up to 11 federal antipoverty programs into a single funding stream for states, a plan he says will include new work requirements and create more accountability and efficiency in assisting low-income Americans.

Food stamps, housing assistance, child-care aid and cash welfare would be among the funding streams pooled into the program, potentially redirecting more than $100 billion in federal support each year.


Mr. Ryan believes the current set of federal antipoverty programs creates a disincentive for people to work, as families fear they will lose benefits if their income rises above certain thresholds. Many of his ideas would transfer federal decision-making to state leaders, who he believes are best equipped to tailor programs to help residents.

The plan, outlined in a 73-page proposal called “Expanding Opportunity in America,” would challenge decades of federal antipoverty strategy. Many anti-poverty programs, such as food stamps, Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income, exist as hybrid designs that require cooperation and administrative involvement from states and the federal government.


Liberal groups are likely to describe Mr. Ryan's proposal as a way of transforming federal assistance into “block grants'' to states, something they have long resisted. Many say states are less capable than the federal government of ensuring the delivery of benefits to low-income families. They have said these services should not depend on the political decisions of governors, some of whom rejected an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. [The Wall Street Journal, 7/24/14]

Fox News, National Review Online Defended Ryan Poor-Shaming Kids Who Receive Free Lunch. Right-wing media came to the defense of Paul Ryan poor-shaming children receiving free lunch at school. Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on March 6, 2014, Ryan claimed that the government gives people “a full stomach and an empty soul” and that students receiving subsidized lunches through their schools had lower self-esteem as a result. A headline from the National Review Online called Ryan's remarks “moving,” and Fox correspondent Carl Cameron claimed Ryan's speech had taken a “middle-of-the-road tone.” [Media Matters, 3/6/14]

Washington Post Spun For Paul Ryan's Spotty Record On Poverty. On November 18, 2013, The Washington Post wrote about Paul Ryan's plans for the upcoming year, pushing a softer version of the congressman and quoting Ryan staff that claimed he “has been quietly visiting inner-city neighborhoods” to “talk to ex-convicts and recovering addicts about the means of their salvation.” The Post added that Ryan “was mortified by Romney's 47-percent remarks,” during the 2012 presidential campaign where the Republican nominee slammed nearly half the population as “entitled” and “dependent upon government.” The paper completely failed to push back on Ryan's voting record and prior public statements on poverty, ignoring that Ryan committed a “47 percent” gaffe of his own when he falsely claimed “right now about 60 percent of the American people get more benefits ... than they pay back in taxes,” and that the nation's demographics were sliding toward “a majority of takers versus makers in America.” [Media Matters, 11/19/13]

Fox's Varney Claimed Ryan Budget May Solve Non-Existent Problems With Food Stamps. Fox Business host Stuart Varney praised Paul Ryan for his proposed changes to food assistance programs on the March 13, 2013 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, bizarrely claiming the proposed reforms would fix problems with the programs that did not exist. Varney also falsely claimed that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as “food stamps,” lacked a work requirement and time limits for benefits, and kept people in poverty. [Media Matters, 03/13/13]

Fox's Cavuto Called Ryan “Mr. Budget,” Suggested He Should Receive “A Medal For Trying” To Solve Budget Problems. On August 13, 2012, just days after Ryan was announced as Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate, Fox News host Neil Cavuto referred to the congressman as “Mr. Budget,” and praised him for his work on budget proposals that were never signed into law, saying: “You'd think we'd give him a medal for trying.” [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 8/13/12]

Despite His Rhetoric, Ryan's Policies Would Actually Harm Americans Struggling With Poverty

NPR Defends SNAP Against Paul Ryan's Assault. On December 29, 2015, NPR reported on the benefits of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) in response to Speaker Ryan pushing to weaken the program, which provides vital food assistance to millions of people in poverty. NPR reported that Ryan claimed SNAP and other programs are “trapping people in poverty.” Of the 46.5 million Americans currently receiving SNAP benefits, each received on average only $125 a month for food assistance or less than $5 a day. NPR also reported that the Council of Economic Advisors found the SNAP program alone kept almost 5 million people out of poverty in 2014, the most recent available data, including 2 million children:

Early this month, House Speaker Paul Ryan asked a crowd in Washington, D.C., “What kind of country do we want to be?” As he unfurled his sweeping 2016 agenda, he returned to one of his signature issues: public benefit programs. There are just too many, and they don't work, he said: “We are trapping people in poverty.”

Among the programs in Ryan's sights is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the federal government program also known as food stamps. But a few days after his speech, the White House came to SNAP's defense. The Council of Economic Advisers published a report painting a picture of an effective, albeit limited, program that feeds the hungry and thwarts poverty. “New research has come out that is really compelling,” says co-author and CEA member Sandra Black. “We think it is important to show that both the benefits of this program are huge and it's insufficient as it is.”

Today 46.5 million Americans get SNAP benefits -- on average about $125 a month per person to buy food from authorized retailers. The CEA report finds SNAP is best at doing what it's intended to do: keep people from going hungry. But it also reduces poverty overall. According to the authors, in 2014 the program kept close to 5 million people out of poverty, 2 million of them kids. [NPR, 12/29/15]

MSNBC's Steve Benen: Ryan's Policies Are “Brutal” For the Poor. On May 6, 2015, MSNBC blogger Steve Benen expanded on a Vox rebuttal to Paul Ryan's policy proposals for the poor that would actually hurt those in poverty, stating that Ryan is “focused on poverty” but is proposing legislation that would be “brutal towards those actually in poverty.” Ryan had proposed cutting taxes for the rich while slashing public assistance for the poor, which led Benen to question whether Ryan truly understood the subject matter:

Nearly two years ago, not long after his failed bid for national office, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) appeared on msnbc and told Joe Scarborough, “I'm focused on poverty these days.”

It seemed like an odd thing to say. Ryan was, and is, perhaps best known for his far-right budget plan that cuts taxes for the wealthy by hundreds of billions of dollars, while slashing investments in programs that benefit working families. For the Republican congressman to say he's “focused on poverty” was belied by his actual policy agenda, which is brutal towards those actually in poverty.


The full Vox takedown is worth reading in detail, but stepping back, what does it tell us about the seriousness of Ryan's approach to policymaking when he focuses on poverty for years and still doesn't seem to know what he's talking about? [, The MaddowBlog, 5/6/15]

The Atlantic: Ryan's Thinking On Poverty “Backward-Looking.” On July 29, 2014, The Atlantic's David Frum wrote that Paul Ryan's ideas on poverty were ideas from the 1990s not suited for today's economic challenges. Frum, a former speechwriter for Republican president George W. Bush, wrote that Ryan's ideas to combat poverty assumed people need incentives to work and failed to consider that, in today's economy, many low-income Americans may not be able to find a stable, well-paying job:

Yet for all its merits, the Ryan plan is backward-looking rather than forward-looking. The proposal is premised on a way of thinking about poverty that made excellent sense a decade ago--but that is not equal to the more difficult circumstances of today.

In the late 1990s, a booming U.S. economy created jobs at a rate not seen since the 1960s. Wages even for less-skilled workers rose handsomely. Pretty much anybody who wanted to work could do so, and full-time work offered a path out of poverty. An enhanced Earned-Income Tax Credit topped up wages; a new federal health benefit for children extended health care to families who earned just slightly too much to qualify for Medicaid.


In the speech introducing his plan, Ryan talked of a young single mother, now working part-time as a retail clerk, who aspires to become a teacher's assistant. States and local governments laid off more than half a million workers--including many entry-level teachers--in the crisis of 2009. They're not hiring them back. So what happens if and when this hypothetical clerk meets the goals of her contract and obtains some kind of certification? Many other people with certification of all kinds have found themselves dependent on food stamps or other forms of means-tested relief--or else seeking disability payments, which have become a welfare program in all but name for millions of older Americans.

In 1999-2000, it seemed realistic to draw a sharp line of distinction between the vast majority of adults willing and able to work full-time--and thereby earn a living somewhere north of the poverty line--and the small minority of adults whose bad choices or bad situation rendered them dependent on public assistance. But for half a decade now, that distinction has looked blurry. The specific problem of poverty among those who don't work full-time is no longer so easily separated from the broader problem of pervasive economic insecurity among those who do. [The Atlantic, 7/29/14]

The New Republic: GOP Has Made “Mobility” Its “New Mantra,” But Republican Policies Undermine Mobility. In a February 19, 2014 essay for The New Republic, Demos' Sean McElwee argued that, for Republicans, "'Mobility' is the party's new mantra--but it's based on a familiar delusion." As McElwee pointed out, Republican proposals are not serious about addressing lagging economic mobility or growing inequality because “being serious about the problem will require doing the one thing that Republicans hate: government spending.” McElwee singled out Paul Ryan as an example of Republican politicians who have pushed harmful policies as supposed to solutions to economic insecurity. [The New Republic, 2/19/14]

Paul Ryan's Budget Proposals Would Have Waged A War On The Poor Instead Of Reducing Poverty

CBPP: Paul Ryan's House GOP Budget Plan Would Have Created “More Poverty And Less Opportunity.” When Paul Ryan unveiled his 2014 House GOP budget plan, Robert Greenstein, the president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), noted that under the Ryan budget, “Affluent Americans would do quite well. But for tens of millions of others, the Ryan plan is a path to more adversity.” Greenstein pointed out that the plan would have left millions without health insurance by repealing the Affordable Care Act and implementing changes to Medicaid funding. Greenstein also criticized the budget for its impact on anti-poverty programs, estimating that it would:

  • Slash basic food aid provided by SNAP by at least $135 billion and convert the program to a block grant. The Ryan budget includes every major benefit cut in the harsh SNAP bill that the House passed in September, which CBO estimated would end benefits to 3.8 million low-income people in 2014. The budget also would block-grant SNAP in 2019, with further steep funding cuts. States would be left to decide whose benefits to cut -- poor children, working-poor parents, seniors, people with disabilities, or others struggling to make ends meet. They would have no good choices, as SNAP provides an average of only $1.40 per person per meal.
  • Make it harder for low-income students to attend college. Ryan proposes to cut Pell Grants by more than $125 billion over the next decade. He would freeze the maximum grant for ten years, even as college tuition costs continue to rise. The maximum Pell Grant already covers less than a third of college costs, compared to more than half in earlier decades. Yet under the Ryan budget, the grant would fall another 24 percent by 2024 in inflation-adjusted dollars. (Some of that reduction is in the budget baseline, but Ryan would substantially enlarge it.) He also would make some moderate-income students who get modest help from Pell Grants today entirely ineligible.
  • Make massive unspecified cuts in a part of the budget in which low-income programs -- including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which Ryan praised in his recent poverty report -- make up a substantial share of the expenditures. His budget calls for at least $500 billion in cuts to mandatory programs other than Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, Pell Grants, farm programs, civil service programs, and veterans' benefits. A substantial share of spending in this category is for low-income programs, including the EITC, the low-income component of the Child Tax Credit, the school lunch and other child nutrition programs, and Supplemental Security Income, which helps very poor people who are elderly or have serious disabilities. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 4/1/14]

Paul Krugman: “Over The Medium Term ... It's A Plan To Savage The Poor While Giving Big Tax Breaks To The Rich.” In a March 21, 2012 post on his New York Times blog, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman noted that Ryan's plan would “savage the poor while giving big tax breaks to the rich”:

[Ryan's] latest budget proposal has received some harsh critiques. It calls for huge tax cuts, supposedly offset by closing loopholes and ending tax expenditures - except that in a long report he fails to name a single tax expenditure that he would cut. It assumes drastic cuts in discretionary spending, basically eliminating everything except defense. And over the medium term, of course, it's a plan to savage the poor while giving big tax breaks to the rich. [The New York Times, The Conscience of a Liberal, 3/21/12]

Robert Reich: “Guiding Principle” Of 2012 Ryan Budget Plan Was To “Reward The Rich And Cut Off The Help To Anyone Who Needs It.” In a March 21, 2012 blog for The Huffington Post, economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote that Paul Ryan's latest budget plan was based on the “guiding principle” to “reward the rich and cut off the help to anyone who needs it”:

The real contrast is over what the plan does for the rich and what it does to everyone else. It reduces the top individual and corporate tax rates to 25 percent. This would give the wealthiest Americans an average tax cut of at least $150,000 a year.

The money would come out of programs for the elderly, lower-middle families, and the poor.

Seniors would get subsidies to buy private health insurance or Medicare - but the subsidies would be capped. So as medical costs increased, seniors would fall further and further behind.

Other cuts would come out of food stamps, Pell grants to offset the college tuition of kids from poor families, and scores of other programs that now help middle-income and the poor.


Not surprisingly, the Pentagon would be spared.

So what's the guiding principle here? Pure Social Darwinism. Reward the rich and cut off the help to anyone who needs it. [The Huffington Post, 3/21/12]

CBPP: 2012 Ryan Budget “Would Likely Produce The Largest Redistribution Of Income From The Bottom To The Top In Modern U.S. History.” In a March 21, 2012 statement, CBPP president Robert Greenstein demonstrated that Ryan's budget plan would “likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history”:

The new Ryan budget is a remarkable document -- one that, for most of the past half-century, would have been outside the bounds of mainstream discussion due to its extreme nature. In essence, this budget is Robin Hood in reverse -- on steroids. It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation's history).


Specifically, the Ryan budget would impose extraordinary cuts in programs that serve as a lifeline for our nation's poorest and most vulnerable citizens, and over time would cause tens of millions of Americans to lose their health insurance or become underinsured. It would also impose severe cuts in non-defense discretionary programs--much deeper than the across-the-board cuts (“sequestration”) that are scheduled to take place starting in January -- thereby putting core government functions at still greater risk. Indeed, a new Congressional Budget Office analysis that Chairman Ryan himself requested shows that, after several decades, the Ryan budget would shrink the federal government so dramatically that most of what it does outside of Social Security, health care, and defense would essentially disappear. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 3/21/12]

Paul Ryan Promoted Misleading Poverty “Report”

Jared Bernstein: Ryan Poverty Report “Beset With Misleading Evidence And Conclusions.” In a March 3, 2014 post on his On the Economy blog, economist and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) senior fellow Jared Bernstein outlined numerous ways in which Paul Ryan's report titled “The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later” was misleading, highlighting the congressman's unsubstantiated claims that anti-poverty programs create a “trap” for beneficiaries and that government programs that have been in place for 50 years have done little to reduce poverty. Bernstein noted that while Ryan's report was “a serious look at the issue” of poverty, it was ultimately “beset with misleading evidence and conclusions”:

Paul Ryan and the majority Republican staff of the House Budget Committee are out with a big document that purports to provide a balanced evaluation of the full spate of federal anti-poverty programs. It's a detailed, serious look at the issue but is beset with misleading evidence and conclusions. While much of the commentary suggests that federal antipoverty efforts have failed and are fraught by wasteful duplication, the evidence--some of which is in here and much of which is conspicuously missing) [sic] --belies that facile claim.

Of course we could improve the efficiency of many of these programs. But a close look at their totality shows considerable and even lasting anti-poverty effectiveness. [On the Economy, 3/3/14]

CBPP: Ryan Poverty Report “Replete With Misleading” Evidence Used “To Portray Safety Net In A Negative Light.” In a detailed March 4, 2014 analysis of the Ryan poverty report, CBPP vice president Sharon Parrott noted that the report understated the effect that anti-poverty programs have had on reducing poverty and ignored research that is in opposition to its assertions:

Though it purports to be a balanced, evidence-based review of the safety net, it falls far short of that standard. It's replete with misleading and selective presentations of data and research, which it uses to portray the safety net in a negative light. It also omits key research and data that point in more positive directions. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 3/4/14]

Economists Responded To Ryan's Poverty Report, Saying He Misrepresented Their Research.On March 4, 2014, The Fiscal Times reported that numerous economists noted that their work was misrepresented by Paul Ryan in his report purporting to summarize five decades of a failing “war on poverty.” Columbia University economist Jane Waldfogel stated that, in its assessment of the war on poverty, Ryan's report “seemed to arbitrarily chop off data from two of the most successful years of the war on poverty.” From The Fiscal Times (emphasis added):

The Columbia researchers found that, using their model of the SPM, the poverty rate fell from 26 percent in 1967 to 15 percent in 2012. Ryan only cites data from 1969 onward, ignoring a full 36 percent of the decline.

“It's technically correct, but it's an odd way to cite the research,” said Waldfogel. “In my experience, usually you use all of the available data. There's no justification given. It's unfortunate because it really understates the progress we've made in reducing poverty.”

The Ryan report uses the same paper to support its assertion that a welfare reform program instituted in 1996 was the cause of a decline in child poverty.

Chris Wimer, the lead author on the paper and a researcher at Columbia, said Ryan's conclusion ignores the major expansion of the earned-income tax credit in 1993 and the roaring dotcom economy of the mid-to-late 1990s. “While our data can't disentangle those three things, attributing the decline in poverty after 1993 to the welfare reform of 1996 seems to go beyond what the data show,” Wimer said.

Barbara Wolfe, a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said Ryan's paper simply misstates the findings of one of her papers studying the effect of housing assistance on labor outcomes. [The Fiscal Times, 3/4/14]