Paul Ryan Dusts Off His Terrible Poverty Plan One More Time

Speaker Paul Ryan today decried Donald Trump’s comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel as “the textbook definition of a racist comment.” In a question-and-answer period with the press, Ryan also used words like “disavow” and “regret” to describe his reaction to Trump’s racist comment. So does that mean Ryan regrets his all-but-an-endorsement endorsement of Trump? Well, no. Specifically, here’s what he said about that: “Do I think Hillary Clinton is the answer? No I do not.”

So to be clear, Ryan acknowledges that Trump made a “textbook…racist comment.” But he also acknowledged that he’s still voting for Trump. Which is good to know! It’s obviously good to know when our elected leaders don’t consider alarming racist comments to be a reason to not vote for someone. Hell, at least Ryan made a statement. Washington gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant recently received 15 minutes of grilling from journalist Joni Balter and he still won’t admit whether or not he’s voting for Donald Trump. (“I am not going to turn the governor’s race into a comment on the presidential race,” Bryant told Balter. Uh, good luck with the next half-year or so, Bill.)

Anyway, Ryan’s unsatisfying statements on Trump completely buried the news that Ryan had hoped would lead the day: he just revealed his hope for the 2016 Republican agenda, which he optimistically titled “A Better Day.” Specifics for “A Better Day” will be rolled out over the next few weeks, but Ryan started today with poverty. Here, from the “A Better Day” website, are the GOP’s ideas for solving poverty:

(That "Collapse" at the bottom isn't a GOP idea to solve poverty, by the way; it's just a prompt to close the window.)

(That “Collapse” at the bottom isn’t a GOP idea to solve poverty, by the way; it’s just a prompt to close the window.)

Okay. Well, a lot of these are so vague that it’s impossible to argue — does anyone really want to worsen skills and schools? — but others hint at the direction Ryan is going with this anti-poverty program. Specifically, Ryan is interested in blaming the poor for being poor.

Let’s talk specifically about number one on the agenda, which is about work requirements for welfare. Research shows that work requirements do create more work, but they’re lousy when it comes to improving economic situations. In other words, if you want to keep poor people on a poverty treadmill, you institute work requirements. If you want improved mobility, you make it easy for them to get additional education. Ryan’s decision to focus on work requirements at the top of his agenda is a signal that his poverty programs exist to control poverty, not to lessen it. Without investments in people, work requirements only defer the problem of poverty for another few years.

I could go deeper on this, but I just found this article titled “Why Ryan’s Proposed Work Requirements Are Cause for Concern” that covers the problems fairly in-depth. You should read it. How did LaDonna Pavetti write this article so quickly in response to Ryan’s announcement? She didn’t. She wrote it in 2014, when Ryan last proposed work requirements. Ryan has been proposing them for years. He’s the Republican budget guy; he always proposes “aspirational” budgets that are supposed to encourage the Republican party to slash regulations, cut taxes, and slice up the social safety net for the poorest Americans.

Only one element of Ryan’s language has changed through the years: he’s adopted more inclusive phrasing. The “Our Principle” section of the poverty part of  “A Better Day” reads, “If the American Dream isn’t true for everyone, it isn’t true for anyone. All of us should have the chance to make the most of our lives no matter where we start.” This sounds like progressive language, until you take into account the policies these words are describing. What Ryan is doing throughout the “A Better Day” document is interesting: he’s trying to crib his ideas in that of his opponents and hoping that voters don’t notice it’s the exact same trickle-down agenda he’s been pushing for his entire career. This is the same genius, after all, who tried to blame the Democratic party for trickle down economics back in January, which landed about as smoothly as a one-legged pigeon. Maybe Ryan’s agenda would succeed if he worried more about the content of his ideas and less about the packaging of them.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.