Smiling Paul Ryan touts bill to waste millions on drug testing unemployed Americans

The House Speaker again puts ideology ahead of his professed concern for fiscal discipline.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) in August 2016 telling Washington, D.C., residents about his “better way” to deal with poverty. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) in August 2016 telling Washington, D.C., residents about his “better way” to deal with poverty. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Last year, President Obama’s Department of Labor issued a regulation restricting the number of unemployment insurance beneficiaries that would be subject to drug testing. The move infuriated Republicans like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker who had made such a program a centerpiece of his agenda.

Despite their vows to eliminate wasteful government spending, the Congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump are now poised to overturn that rule — despite significant evidence that similar drug testing regimes cost a lot more than they save.

In February, the House of Representatives passed House Joint Resolution 42 — nearly along party lines — disapproving the regulation. Because such rules are not subject to filibuster, the Senate approved the same last week on Friday 51–48, strictly along party lines. The Trump administration has indicated it “strongly supports” the effort, making it very likely the bill will be signed very soon.

A smiling Ryan could barely contain his glee, tweeting out a picture of himself signing the House version of the resolution, alongside its author, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX):

Many states — including Ryan and Walker’s home state of Wisconsin — have adopted rules in recent years to require beneficiaries of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to be screened for drug use. ThinkProgress published examinations of the 2014 and 2015 data provided by each state with those rules and found that the states paid millions of dollars to implement the testing and combined to find only hundreds of positive tests.


“If the issue were addressing substance abuse and providing treatment, this is not the approach,” Liz Schott, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities told ThinkProgress in early 2016. “This is not a policy-based or evidence-based approach or use of resources.”

But while that program was expensive, ineffective, and put yet another obstacle between needy citizens and the benefits they need to take care of their families, there is an important distinction that makes this even more problematic.

TANF is a federal welfare program through which the states provide aid to their poorest citizens. Unemployment is an insurance program; employers are required to pay-in to it for their employees during the time they are employed. Now, in Wisconsin and other states that followed its lead, people will have to endure drug screening just to get access to their own insurance benefits.

Walker has also asked the Trump administration to let him drug test food stamp recipients. To date, proposals to drug test members of congress have gained little traction.