Extreme Makeover: Paul Ryan Wants You To Believe He Will Help The Poor


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The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery reports on “an ambitious new project” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) plans to roll out next year: “an anti-poverty plan to rival his budgetary Roadmap for America’s Future in scope and ambition.”

While the proposal is still light on details, Ryan’s advisers promise “kinder, gentler policies to encourage work and upward mobility.” Ryan will stress volunteerism and working through existing federal programs. The new focus is a shift, Montgomery notes, that may be particularly critical for the Wisconsin congressman, who “rose to prominence as the author of an austere budget blueprint that calls for privatizing Medicare and sharply slowing federal spending on the poor.”

That “austere budget” receives just a passing mention in Montgomery’s otherwise optimistic treatment of Ryan’s plans, even though it undermines Ryan’s entire poverty focus, suggesting that any real shift would actually require the one-time GOP vice presidential candidate to disown policies he spent his career advancing.

Consider, for instance, Ryan’s solution for helping poor people access health care. The GOP budget would repeal the Affordable Care Act — a law that provides health care security for millions of working poor Americans by expanding Medicaid for individuals and families earning above 133 percent of the federal poverty line — and send the program back to the states. States would receive a federal block grant of funding that would not keep up with current cost projections, forcing governors and legislatures to either make up the difference or cut eligibility and benefits. As the Congressional Budget Office predicted, “reducing federal payments for Medicaid relative to currently projected amounts would probably require states to provide less extensive coverage, or to pay a larger share of the program’s total costs, than would be the case under current law.” A study from the Urban Institute found that Ryan’s plan would reduce Medicaid enrollment by a whopping 50 percent.

Food stamps — which kept 4 million people out of poverty in 2012 — don’t fare any better. The GOP budget similarly block grants the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, costing it $125 billion in funding over the next decade. It also cuts an additional $10 billion after the transition is complete and ultimately pushes more than 12 million Americans out of the program.

Overall, the House Republican budget’s vast spending reductions are overwhelmingly aimed at low-income Americans, so much so that nearly two-thirds of its cuts would come from poverty programs that aid the neediest people in the nation. That would mean steep reductions for child care, Head Start, job training, Pell Grants, housing, energy assistance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), or welfare. And that doesn’t even consider Ryan’s preferred tax structure, which would redistribute wealth to the richest Americans while potentially increasing taxes for everyone else.

Montgomery writes that Ryan’s views on poverty are inspired by his Catholicism. “You cure poverty eye to eye, soul to soul,” he says. “Spiritual redemption: That’s what saves people.” Unfortunately, his approach is not informed by any kind of real world experience, as the programs he slashes help lift millions out of poverty.