Rep. Paul Ryan Presents Ideas to Fight Poverty  ...back >
July 24, 2014 - Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House Budget Committee, unveiled a far-reaching set of ideas to overhaul the federal government's ant-poverty efforts in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute.  [prepared remarks]  Ryan has focused considerable attention on the problem of poverty over the past year.  Working with Bob Woodson, president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, he made a series of quiet visits to low income communities and his Budget Committee has held five hearings on poverty since July 2013.  Ryan's proposals, which encompass six major elements, are contained in a 73-page discussion draft "Expanding Opportunity in America." 

First, and most controversial, is the Opportunity Grant pilot project, which would allow states to consolidate up to 11 forms of federal aid into a single payment.  Ryan emphasized that the Opportunity Grant is not exactly a block grant, as there would be clear criteria to ensure that the funds are used to counter poverty and that participating states are achieving measurable success.  Other elements include expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, education reforms, streamlining job training programs, criminal justice reform, attention to regulations that particularly affect low-income families, and finally, more use of data in policy making.
After Ryan outlined his proposals he participated in a panel with Robert Doar of AEI, Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, Stuart Butler of the Heritage Foundation, and Bob Woodson of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise.
Ron Haskins, a senior fellow in economic studies program and co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution, opened the discussion by declaring,

"First, it’s a sweeping proposal. This is worthy of a think tank. It’s full of references to social science. Things are justified, are explained. It’s a spectacular document. And I would emphasize sweeping: opportunity grants, EITC for childless workers, education at all levels, criminal sentencing and other prisoner reforms, regulatory reform, and program evaluation. I have not seen anything like this from an individual member in many years introduced in Congress."

Haskins described it as "a bipartisan, resonable proposal."  "If we take the Senate and the Senate introduces something along these lines and both the House and the Senate pass it, we can put something on the president’s desk that will become law," Haskins said.
Despite the possibility of bipartisanship raised in the discussion, Democrats' initial responses were unfavorable.  In a statement, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), ranking member on the Budget Committee, referred to "the total cognitive dissonance between it [the proposal] and the Republican budget he authored earlier this year," and he described the Opportunity Grant as "a block grant gussied up with some bells and whistles."  A DNC email headlined "Ryan's anti-poverty rhetoric isn't fooling anyone" likewise pointed to the Ryan budget and stated, "He can’t claim to be fighting for the poor, while at the same time fighting for policies that would directly harm them." 

Ryan presents his proposals as a discussion draft, and hopefully they will prompt a thoughtful conversation, for as the document notes, in 2014, the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, 46 million Americans or 15 percent of the population live in poverty. 

American Enterprise Institute event page
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