Will The Media Fall For Paul Ryan’s Sham Poverty Proposals Again?

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.”

Paul Ryan Plans To Debut Anti-Poverty “Reform” Policies This Week

Anti-Poverty Proposals Will Be The First Of Several “Policy Papers” Released By Ryan’s Office This Month. Roll Call was among the first to report House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) plan to roll out a series of up to six “detailed policy papers” outlining what his office is calling the “Confident America” agenda. According to a May 25 article, Ryan promised that his proposals will outline “an agenda for the next president” and would begin with a focus on reforming American anti-poverty programs. Morning Consult confirmed that the plan would be released on Tuesday, June 7, and that the speaker was “confident” Trump “will embrace the agenda” (emphasis added):

The longer-term issue involves the rollout of the House GOP’s “Confident America” agenda, detailing Ryan’s policy proposals for 2017 should the White House fall into Republican hands. On Tuesday, Ryan will release a policy paper on poverty, and on Thursday, the subject shifts to national security. There are several others in the works.

The looming question there is whether Trump, the GOP nominee, will go along with Ryan’s plan. The unpredictable real estate mogul has not yet said whether he will go along with it. Ryan has said he is confident Trump will embrace the agenda, and his recent endorsement of Trump could help.

“I feel confident he would help us turn the ideas in this agenda into laws to help improve people’s lives,” Ryan said in his op-ed stating his support for Trump. [Roll Call, 5/25/16; Morning Consult, 6/3/16]

Media Have Uncritically Reported On Ryan’s Previous Attempts To Rebrand GOP Poor-Shaming

Wash. Post: “Paul Ryan Turns The GOP Presidential Race Toward A Forgotten Issue: Poverty.” Reporting on a previous Ryan effort, The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis wrote that, “Paul Ryan turn[ed] the GOP presidential race toward” poverty, an issue he suggests the GOP has “forgotten,” in a January 9 article highlighting the conservative Jack Kemp Foundation’s presidential candidates forum on poverty. DeBonis asserted that the forum “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.” [The Washington Post, 1/9/16]

CBS: “Paul Ryan Thrusts Poverty Into 2016 Conversation.” CBS News' Jake Miller wrote that through the Kemp Forum, “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.” [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 Kemp Forum, 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 of Representatives, and he has built a reputation around being a policy wonk with command of the issues.” [CNN, 1/9/16]

CBS, ABC Failed To Question Speaker Ryan On His Opposition To Paid Family Leave. Paul Ryan appeared on the November 1 editions of CBS' Face The 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 despite demanding family-friendly workplace policies for himself before agreeing to take the speakership. 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. [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 baselessly blame him for persistent economic inequality that predated his presidency. [Fox News, Happening Now, 1/22/15]

Fox News, National Review Defended Ryan Poor-Shaming Kids Who Receive Free Lunch. Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on March 6, 2014, Ryan suggested that government-subsidized school lunch programs give children “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 called Ryan's remarks “moving,” and Fox correspondent Carl Cameron claimed Ryan's poor-shaming speech had taken a “middle-of-the-road tone.” [Media Matters, 3/6/14]

WSJ Highlighted Ryan's Work For Benefits Program, While Failing To Ask What Happens To Those Who Cannot Find Work. Paul Ryan's plan to consolidate 11 federal government assistance programs into block grants to the states was announced in a July 24, 2014 Wall Street Journal article. 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. [The Wall Street Journal, 7/24/14]

Wash. Post Spun For Paul Ryan's Spotty Record On Poverty. The Washington Post wrote about Paul Ryan's plans for the upcoming year, pushing a softer version of the congressman on November 18, 2013, and quoting Ryan’s staff claiming that 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]

Ryan’s Years-Long War On The Poor

Paul Ryan: Federal Government “Does More Harm Than Good” When It Assists The Poor. During a discussion at CPAC 2016, Ryan and Bold Media founder Carrie Sheffield pushed a series of right-wing media-inspired myths. The two derided government assistance programs as “trapping people in poverty, by basically paying people not to work,” and dismissed food and housing assistance programs started more than 50 years ago by President Johnson, commonly referred to as the “War on Poverty.” Ryan also misleadingly claimed that “we basically have a stalemate on our hands” with regard to reducing poverty in the United States, despite 50 years of work and “trillions [of dollars] spent.” [CSPAN3, 3/3/16]

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.” The Center for American Progress' (CAP) 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,” in a January 7 Huffington Post blog. 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.” [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 SNAP alone kept almost 5 million people out of poverty in 2014, the most recent available data, including 2 million children. [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.” [MSNBC.com, 5/6/15]

The Atlantic: Ryan's Thinking On Poverty “Backward-Looking.” 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 Republican and former speechwriter for 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. [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 slashing 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 Actually Undermine Mobility. Demos policy analyst Sean McElwee argued that, for Republicans, "'Mobility' is the party's new mantra--but it's based on a familiar delusion," in a February 19, 2014, essay for The New Republic. 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]