Wash. Post Falls For Republican Rhetoric On Poverty

Paul Ryan Gets Credit For Talking About Poverty, Despite Harmful Policies

Paul Ryan

A February 29 Washington Post Wonkblog post credited House Speaker Paul Ryan for his focus on poverty but failed to acknowledge the negative impact his "brutal" proposals would actually have on the poor. Headlined “Most Republicans care deeply about the poor,” the piece said Ryan “has been striving since the last presidential election to make poverty the GOP's next issue,” and noted that the speaker “takes the project so seriously that he cited it as one of his reasons for sitting out the 2016 race.” Highlighting the sham Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity held in January, The Post claimed that the “tone” adopted by the Republican officials in attendance, which included several presidential candidates, was compassionate and inclusive." From The Washington Post (emphasis added):

Last month, six GOP presidential candidates met in South Carolina to discuss something of a lapsed issue for the Republican Party: helping the poor. The Jan. 9 forum, co-hosted by House Speaker Paul Ryan, played out like a hallucination of the primary season party leaders had hoped for. The tone was compassionate and inclusive. People debated, in depth, real policies. And Donald Trump was nowhere to be seen.

For Paul Ryan, the moment was a minor triumph. Ryan has been striving since the last presidential election to make poverty the GOP's next big issue. As RNC chairman Reince Priebus argued in 2013, the party's long-term success depends on shedding its image as the “party of the rich,” of the “narrow-minded” and the “out of touch.” A campaign to combat poverty using Republican principles could jumpstart that transformation.

Ryan takes the project so seriously that he cited it as one of his reasons for sitting out the 2016 race. “I wanted to make sure this got away from presidential politics,” he told Yahoo News's Jon Ward last March. “I wanted to make sure that this got some distance from being seen as some personal ambitious project for a politician.”

The Post did link to another Wonkblog entry that called out Ryan as someone who “misunderstands or glosses over some crucial points about the causes of poverty and what's needed to alleviate it.” However, the overall post gives an impression that Ryan is proposing policies that would assist the poor, which isn't the case. Ryan's policies have been called "backward-looking" for attempting to look at poverty in the same way policy makers tackled the issue in the 1990s. These 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 job that pays well. The Post also neglected to mention that 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.”

The media should be wary of Ryan's interest in poverty and look beyond the softened rhetoric of Republican lawmakers. If enacted, his budget proposals would create “more poverty and less opportunity,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Ryan's 2014 budget proposal would have cut Pell Grants for college students by $125 billion over a decade and even decreased food assistance for those in poverty -- assistance that is only $1.40 per person per meal. In addition to his draconian 2014 budget, Ryan also produced a separate proposal to reform federal anti-poverty programs based on the right-wing media myth that low-income Americans “want to be poor.” Economist Robert Reich referred to the “guiding principle” of Ryan's 2012 budget proposal as “reward the rich and cut off the help to anyone who needs it.”

The Washington Post has been ensnared by Ryan's poverty PR before, claiming Ryan had new ideas for “an anti-poverty program” that would “rival his budgetary Roadmap for America's future in scope and ambition.” Multiple news outlets have fallen for the conservative ploy that Ryan's plans would assist the poor, or have ignored glaring issues with Ryan's stance opposing paid family leave while simultaneously saying he would accept the speaker position only if he gets sufficient time to spend with his family.