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Paul Ryan’s Plan Will Not Alleviate Poverty

July 26, 2014

House Budget Committee Chair and former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan recently came up with new policy proposals to help the poor and alleviate poverty. His plan seems to be similar to plans he has put forth in the past to deal with such safety net programs as Medicare and Medicaid – placing significant influence on granting funds to states and allowing them to more efficiently channel resources and achieve better results than federal programs have been able to accomplish so far. He would combine funding for many current major programs into block grants to be given states for use as they deem fit to achieve these goals.

One major problem I see with this approach has been illustrated far too poignantly with the recent Medicaid expansion component of the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court determined that states could choose to opt out of Medicaid expansion if they so desired. The problem is, given the choice to either accept expanded access to health care through increased Medicaid availability or maintaining the status quo, most states dominated by Republican legislatures and/or governors chose the latter. Thus, many people who would be eligible for Medicaid if they lived in New York or another state that accepted Medicaid expansion are left out in the cold because they live in Texas or some other state that refused the expansion. Millions are adversely affected as a result. That doesn’t seem fair to me.

Paul Ryan and the Republican advocates of fiscal austerity seem to be trying to add a new spin on an old idea that did not serve them well in the 2012 elections. The bottom line is still the budget proposal that Ryan has basically been presenting to Congress ever since the GOP took control of the House and he took the Chair of the Budget Committee after the 2010 elections. The numbers (and faulty math) change ever so slightly, but the main goal of achieving a balanced budget primarily by reducing spending on social programs aimed at improving economic opportunities, health, education and other aspects of life for groups and individuals who have been disadvantaged in our society. To some extent, they seem either unwilling or unable to bring themselves to the realization that the status quo in this society is fundamentally flawed, and requires significant changes in order to achieve a greater degree of justice and fairness for all. It should be a higher priority to provide a good education and health care to those who need it than to subsidize and business making billions in profits or give loopholes that see millionaires paying a lower tax rate than their employees.

The budget does not consist only of spending on safety net programs. It also involves all other spending and all sources of revenues. The GOP, and Ryan (one of their fearless leaders, especially when it comes to the budget) seem to totally neglect the unfairness of such things as the tax code that benefits the wealthy and encourages corporations to take actions detrimental to most of the rest of our society – like offshoring profits for tax purposes, moving production to states or countries with few if any worker rights protections and starvation wages, etc. The main goal of the Republicans in this exercise seems little more than soothing the bulk of the nation’s voters after the 2012 campaign punctuated by insensitive references to the 47%, makers and takers and other trickle down economic nonsense spouted by them at that time. They seem to think this tactic worked for George W. Bush in 2000, so it can help them in 2016.

Compassionate Conservatism by any other name still smells more like manure than it does perfume. Consolidating programs and giving block grants can easily become a deceptive exercise that ultimately results in a disguied version of the same basic political shell game that benefits the few at the expense of the many, with little change in overall poverty levels or opportunities for advancement. The emphasis of the current programs to treat people from different states the same makes more sense to me than depending on the political goodwill of 50 separate state legislatures to level the playing field. The disparity in treatment of individuals under the ACA is bad enough as it is. How bad could it get in the future if food stamps, education spending and all of the other areas Ryan suggests lumping into these block grants come into play?

Why should we trust state governments which apparently don’t care if many of those living within their borders have access to affordable health care? What about these other programs would lead them to act any differently in the areas of education, childcare, housing or nutrition? All of these factors impact the ability of anyone to live and thrive. Why should living in one part of the country or being born into one family instead of another affect one’s future so positively or negatively as is the case now?  We need to spend more time and effort getting government to treat all of us us equally and less effort using government to protect the unfair advantages that have accrued to the wealthy and to corporations due largely to intentional policy decisions made over the years. This is not a meritocracy – never was and never will be. The wealthy and their corporations are no more worthy of their current status than are the impoverished or those in between.

Certain living standards and opportunities must be afforded each of us. To the extent that providing them may not enable some of us to fully meet the “needs” of our greed, that greed must be kept in check and not allowed to run amok. Maintaining the current distribution of wealth and power in this society is detrimental to the future of us all. Shuffling the deck while keeping all the aces up the sleeves of a relatively few won’t fool the rest for long. Sarah Palin had a famous saying about lipstick on a pig she used back in 2008. That about sums up the Ryan anti-poverty plan for me. Throwing in a few good ideas like reforming mandatory sentencing guidelines for convicts does not change the overall faults of the plan as a whole. Ryan still thinks largely in terms of makers and takers and chooses the path of least resistance in seeking to further the aims of his political benefactors while attempting to alienate as few others in the process to make a run for higher office possible. His proposal would ultimately not benefit most of the alleged recipients of its stated aims much, if at all. Repealing the New Deal and Great Society is not the answer. Repealing the Reagan and Bush tax cuts and reforming the inequities of the tax structure to more adequately meet the needs of all is what we need most.


Suggested Further Readings:

Some Republicans push compassionate, anti-poverty agenda ahead of 2016 contest

Liberals Should Embrace Some Parts of Paul Ryan’s New Poverty Plan

The Achilles’ Heel Of Paul Ryan’s Latest Antipoverty Program

Ryan "Opportunity Grant" Proposal Would Likely Increase Poverty and Shrink Resources for Poverty Programs Over Time

Paul Ryan’s poverty plan attacks the wrong problem and comes up with the wrong solution

Paul Ryan’s Faux Populism Isn’t Going to End Poverty or Reduce Inequality

Paul Ryan’s Poverty Plan: The Good and the Bad

The Ryan Budget in Sheep’s Clothing?

White House Summit Speakers: Look Beyond Congress for Action on Working Families

Improving Economic Opportunity: Alternatives to the Opportunity Grants

Paul Ryan Calls For Poverty Shaming and Block Grants in “New” Anti-Poverty plan

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