Media figures have credited House Speaker Paul Ryan with thrusting the supposedly "forgotten" issue of poverty into the 2016 Republican presidential race following his participation in the January 9 presidential forum on poverty, but failed to mention that despite his new rhetoric, Ryan has a long history of promoting harmful policies that would "exacerbate poverty, inequality, and wage stagnation."
Paul Ryan Moderated A GOP Presidential Candidate Forum On Alleviating Poverty
Speaker Paul Ryan And Sen. Tim Scott Moderated Republican Presidential Forum To Address A "Republican Cure" For Poverty. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) moderated the Jack Kemp Foundation's January 9 Republican presidential forum on fighting poverty, which was attended by six Republican presidential hopefuls. In a January 7 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Ryan and Scott called the event Republicans' chance to "offer real solutions" to poverty:
On Saturday a majority of the Republican presidential field will meet to discuss fighting poverty at a forum in Columbia, S.C., hosted by the Jack Kemp Foundation. The two of us will serve as moderators.
The high level of candidate interest indicates that our party is not willing to concede this issue to the Democrats. We expect the candidates will have their differences, but that's only because they have ideas, which is more than the other party is offering. What these Republicans share is a much-needed insight: The ticket out of poverty is a quality education and a good paycheck.
[W]e see Saturday's forum as our party's chance to stop carping from the cheap seats and to get into the driver's seat. By offering real solutions, Republicans can define the proper role of the federal government in the 21st century and show the country what a true opportunity agenda looks like.
Here's what we believe: By limiting itself, government can actually expand opportunity when it gets out of the way and paves the road to collaboration--whether it's between students and teachers, job seekers and employers, or people in need and people who can help. It is through that free, personal exchange that people learn the skills they need to succeed.
We look forward to hearing the GOP presidential candidates' ideas for fighting poverty on Saturday, but one message is already clear: Democrats want to take care of the poor; Republicans want to empower them. [The Wall Street Journal, 1/7/16]
Media Credit Ryan With Thrusting The "Forgotten" Issue Of Poverty Into The GOP Presidential Primary Race
Washington Post: "Paul Ryan Turns The GOP Presidential Race Toward A Forgotten Issue: Poverty." The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis wrote in a January 9 Post Politics article that with the forum, "Paul Ryan turn[ed] the GOP presidential race toward" poverty, an issue he suggests the GOP has "forgotten." DeBonis asserted that Ryan's summit "created a spectacle that seemed far removed from the tumult of the campaign at large: A low-octane discussion of conservative policy that was short on candidate sniping and red-meat applause lines":
Republican presidential candidates on Saturday turned their attention away from border walls and terrorist threats and birth certificates, if only for a day, to focus on a topic that is dear to the hearts of some leading conservative thinkers but has remained far from the center of the GOP race: poverty in America.
It created a spectacle that seemed far removed from the tumult of the campaign at large: A low-octane discussion of conservative policy that was short on candidate sniping and red-meat applause lines and long on mentions of block grants, school vouchers and the Earned Income Tax Credit.
That was the intent of the event's sponsors, the Jack Kemp Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, and its leading moderator, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who has promised to use his office to make the 2016 election into a battle of ideas rather than personalities. The Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity, as the event was billed, was focused on issues near to Ryan's wonky heart and that of his mentor, the late Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.). [The Washington Post, 1/9/16]
CBS: "Paul Ryan Thrusts Poverty Into 2016 Conversation." On January 9, 2016, CBS News' Jake Miller wrote that through the summit, "Paul Ryan thrust[ed] poverty into 2016 conversation" for Republican presidential candidates, and said the forum "could give Ryan and the Republican candidates an opportunity to ... demonstrate how their policies would address the problem of poverty in America":
Republican candidates descended on South Carolina Saturday to speak at the Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity - an anti-poverty summit hosted by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Tim Scott.
The summit is being billed as an opportunity for GOP candidates to discuss conservative solutions to the problems of the American poor.
The summit was arranged before Ryan became Speaker, but he felt strongly enough about his message that he wasn't going to let his new job scuttle the event.
"This is such a high priority for me, I instantly determined as soon as I became speaker that I'm going to keep this on the schedule," Ryan told the Wall Street Journal this week.
The forum could give Ryan and the Republican candidates an opportunity to renew Kemp's message for a new generation and demonstrate how their policies would address the problem of poverty in America. [CBS News, 1/9/16]
CNN: "Paul Ryan's A Star" Following Summit. CNN's Tal Kopan wrote "Paul Ryan's a star" following the summit in a January 9 article, and claimed "he deftly prodded [GOP presidential candidates] on the issue of poverty." Kopan also claimed that "Ryan has long tried to make a Republican case on fighting poverty in the House, and he has built a reputation around being a policy wonk with command of the issues. [And t]hat background was on full display" during the summit:
Paul Ryan's a star
It would have been easy to mistake the recently minted House speaker as one of the candidates on Saturday, as he deftly prodded them on the issue of poverty.
Ryan has long tried to make a Republican case on fighting poverty in the House, and he has built a reputation around being a policy wonk with command of the issues. That background was on full display as he engaged with the candidates on their ideas to lift up all Americans and gave an opening address setting the stage for the day.
"We're the only nation founded on an idea: The condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life," Ryan said at the outset. In a later session, he noted the day proved: "We are not just an opposition party, but we are a proposition party."
The candidates heaped him with plenty of praise along the way.
"The country's better off that you're the speaker," Bush said to Ryan as his panel began.
Bush added at the end of his session, "I would follow the Ryan model, go listen first, go learn, develop the policies from the bottom up."
It wasn't just the candidates that took notice. After the day wrapped, Gerry Gudgel, a school administrator from Columbia who says he's looking for a "compassionate conservative" and likes the governors in the race along with Marco Rubio said he wouldn't question Ryan in the field.
"If the Republican Convention went into gridlock, I think Paul Ryan, somehow, put him on the ballot right away," Gudgel said. [CNN, 1/9/16]
... But Forget That His Focus On Poverty Has Long Included Harmful Policies
CAP's Rebecca Vallas: While Paul Ryan's Talking Points "May Be Pitch-Perfect," His Policies Are A "Blueprint For Exacerbating Poverty, Inequality, And Wage Stagnation." In a January 7 Huffington Post blog, the Center for American Progress' Rebecca Vallas wrote that while "Republicans' sudden concern for struggling families is no doubt newsworthy ... unfortunately their policies remain nothing short of a blueprint for exacerbating poverty, inequality, and wage stagnation." Vallas noted that "Ryan has voted against raising the minimum wage at least 10 times," "has consistently opposed legislation that would help families access paid family and medical leave," and has proposed cutting "critical programs that help keep struggling families afloat -- such as nutrition assistance, housing assistance, and Medicaid -- all to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations":
Republicans' sudden concern for struggling families is no doubt newsworthy, particularly in the wake of Mitt Romney's radioactive remarks about "the 47 percent." Ryan in particular has received no shortage of praise as a supposed anti-poverty crusader. But as we marvel at Republicans' seeming about-face on poverty and inequality, we must not lose sight of the other half of the story -- their policies. While Ryan and his colleagues' newfound talking points may be pitch-perfect, unfortunately their policies remain nothing short of a blueprint for exacerbating poverty, inequality, and wage stagnation.
For example, while the refrain of Ryan's first big policy speech as Speaker -- "Push wages up. Push the cost of living down. Get people off the sidelines." -- sounded more like the slogan for one of the Democratic presidential campaigns than the grand finale to a policy speech by a Republican Speaker of the House, you could drive a truck through the gap between his rhetoric and the reality of his policies.
For starters, Ryan has voted against raising the minimum wage at least 10 times since taking office. It's pretty hard to "push wages up" while maintaining a poverty-level federal wage floor.
And let's not forget Ryan's budget proposals. Year after year as chair of the House Budget Committee, Ryan's budgets got two-thirds of their cuts from critical programs that help keep struggling families afloat -- such as nutrition assistance, housing assistance, and Medicaid -- all to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations.
While Ryan made headlines this past fall for extolling the importance of balancing work and family while weighing the notion of picking up the Speaker's gavel, he has consistently opposed legislation that would help families access paid family and medical leave.
And Ryan's big antipoverty plan? Despite being billed as bold and new, it amounted to little more than the same tired policies Republicans have been pushing for years: block granting and slashing funding for effective programs and sending them to the states.
It will take more than shiny new talking points to tackle poverty and inequality in America. The upcoming anti-poverty summit offers a test of whether Ryan and his GOP colleagues mean what they say on these issues -- by abandoning their failed policies of the past. [The Huffington Post, 1/7/16]
NPR: Ryan Seeks To Weaken Food Assistance Programs That Have Kept Millions Out Of Poverty. In response to Speaker Ryan's push to weaken the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), NPR reported on December 29, 2015 that while Ryan claimed SNAP and other programs are "trapping people in poverty," the Council of Economic Advisers found that 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. MSNBC's Steve Benen explained on May 6, 2015 that while Paul Ryan claims to be "focused on poverty," his proposed remedies would be "brutal towards those actually in poverty." Benen added, "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":
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? [MSNBC.com, 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 and 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]
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]
The New Republic: Paul Ryan And GOP Have Made "Mobility" Their "New Mantra," But Their 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]