This is pretty much what you’d expect. Mostly, it’s a outer packaging change, with prettier, more careful language. All of it can be summed up with “if you work, you won’t be poor!”
The report calls for tightening work requirements for welfare, food stamps, and housing assistance programs. “Our plan starts with work, not welfare: If you are capable, we will expect you to work or prepare for work,” a two-page summary says. Republicans are also pushing to send more authority to the states and change programs so that there success—and funding—is based on how many people they help lift out of poverty. The plan would tackle what the report calls “the welfare cliff,” in which recipients are discouraged from taking new or higher paying jobs because the salary would not compensate for the reduction of benefits they would see as a result. Other recommendations include more school choice in education, cutting back financial regulations under the Dodd-Frank law, and making it easier for small businesses to band together to offer 401K retirement plans. “This is how you fight poverty. This is how you create opportunity. This is how you help people move onward and upward,” Ryan said. “We wanted to start with poverty because we think this sums up our case. We want to build a confident American where no one is stuck, where no one settles, and where everyone can rise.”
By and large, these are proposals that Republicans have made before, and in some cases tried to pass into law. The anti-poverty agenda also downplays or jettisons earlier Ryan proposals that drew more bipartisan support, including an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit. As Democrats were quick to point out, what’s new about the GOP platform is mostly the packaging, re-branded under the heading, “A Better Way,” and complete with a website and hash tag.
“Frankly, it’s a new spin on a bad deal,” said Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House minority whip. Democrats also challenged the central premise underlying the Republican agenda—that federal welfare programs were failing in their mission to reduce poverty. “It is a distortion, and he tries to fool people with it,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, who appeared with Hoyer at a panel discussion held by the left-leaning Center for American Progress.
For Democrats, the threat of Ryan’s agenda lies in its sales pitch, which has discarded the 1980s talk of “welfare queens” for the more universal language of upward mobility and self-sufficiency. One conservative congressman quoted Robert F. Kennedy while he touted the GOP plan. And who would argue with more results-oriented policies, targeting federal dollars toward the most successful ideas, reducing red tape, and “tailoring benefits to people’s needs,” as the report promises? Yet to liberals, the rhetoric obscures a far harsher reality: Republicans are proposing to align anti-poverty programs with their vision of a smaller, leaner federal government, which means steep budget cuts that they fear go well beyond trimming the fat. “Paul Ryan’s anti-poverty proposals sound great, but they’re fundamentally fraudulent covers for draconian budget cuts that will hike poverty,” tweeted Joel Berg, who runs the New York-based non-profit Hunger Free America.