Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan on Monday published a teaser of his upcoming budget proposal, focused on the government's existing programs for addressing poverty. In short: government money is being wasted. Proposals for improvement and replacement were not presented.
One of the funnier aspects of American politics recently has been Jonathan Chait of New York magazine pointing out the repeated coverage of Ryan's supposedly quiet tour of American poverty. "Ryan’s rebranding effort — sorry, his heartfelt interest" on the subject of poverty, Chait wrote last year, "is inevitably described as 'quiet.'" So it "might seem odd that Ryan’s determination to keep his love of the poor quiet would nevertheless leak out in the media, over and over again." Chait tracked down one person who'd been leaking details of the tour: Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
But that secret tour served Ryan well in putting together his 200-plus page report on the government's poverty programs. "In visit after visit," he said in an interview with The Washington Post, "I’ve learned that we’ve got to stop measuring success by how much we spend and start measuring success by how much we help." The document walks through program after program that receives federal money for the purposes of addressing poverty, looking at how much the government has spent ($799 billion on 92 programs in 2012) and the effect of the programs on labor force participation. The guiding principle of the document, it seems, is to judge the extent to which federal programs provide a disincentive for finding employment, a key indicator of emerging from poverty — and a key argument in the current debate over Obamacare.
"Ryan said Republicans will soon offer specific prescriptions to the problems he outlines," the Post's Robert Costa reports. "Putting a comprehensive anti-poverty agenda alongside efforts to devise an alternative to the federal health-care law is a GOP priority, he said." That latter effort has drawn some skepticism, as has the idea that the GOP will introduce acceptable anti-poverty moves. "The real test is what Republicans will put in their budget this year," Rep. Chris Van Hollen told the Post, "and if past is prologue, this report is simply laying the groundwork to slash social safety-net programs." It seems unlikely that Democrats will rush to embrace whatever emerges, despite Costa indicating that as he worked on the report, Ryan "consulted with a diverse group of conservative thinkers."
Ryan, of course, is one of the owners of Congress' most recent bipartisan victory, the sudden December deal between the House and Senate on a budget that marked the end of shutdown-era obstructionism. How likely is a similar deal in the Senate at this point? Well, if it's any indicator, The New York Times has an article on Monday about how the Senate is trying something new: working together on a non-controversial bill, just to see if everyone can get along. Early review from New York Sen. Chuck Schumer: "It’s a modest start, and it may not work."
From a political standpoint, Ryan's new document won't ruffle any feathers on his side of the aisle. Unlike the recent proposal from Rep. Dave Camp to change tax rates, including taxing certain financial entities, "welfare reform" has a long track record of support from Republicans (and at least one recent Democratic president). Ryan, who will probably consider a presidential run in 2016, would love to be known as the numbers guru who tackled welfare.
And, at last, he's ready for the world to know about his poverty work.