Speaker Ryan Hosts GOP Candidates This Weekend To Put Some New Spin On Policies That Will Hurt Working Families
Today’s strong jobs report offered a bit of welcome news about the economy, but let’s be totally clear: more than 46 million Americans are living in poverty, including 21.1 percent of children under 18. There is a lot of work we can do to help guarantee these Americans some basic economic security. And at first listen, it sounds like Republicans agree that we ought to be doing a lot more, too—so much so that they’re convening a poverty summit, the Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity, this Saturday. Moderated by newly-shaven Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Tim Scott, the Forum gives Speaker Ryan and the GOP presidential candidates the opportunity to present ideas on how they’d end poverty in America. However, in reality their policies would—surprise!—hurt those in poverty.
Speaker Ryan has a history of speaking in platitudes about poverty. In 2014, Ryan tried to paint himself as an anti-poverty crusader, embarking on poverty tour and releasing a lengthy report documenting his concerns about poverty. In his first major speech as Speaker of the House, Ryan lamented about the “millions of people stuck in neutral.” Journalists and pundits alike are quick to laud Ryan for being an “all-star” on anti-poverty issues.
GOP candidates are taking their cues from Speaker Ryan and have started to repeat a lot of his talking points. Jeb Bush exclaimed that “the opportunity gap is the defining issue of our time,” while Sen. Marco Rubio stated if the United States is to “remain an exceptional nation, we must close this gap in opportunity.” And in highlighting his commitment to the poor, Gov. John Kasich went even further by saying, “you’ll be remembered for what you do for the poor.”
But the policies that Speaker Ryan and the GOP presidential candidates are pushing tell a completely different story. Speaker Ryan has proposed cuts to programs that are critical for working families and has parroted an overused but baseless talking point that poverty is the result of a “culture problem.” Well over two-thirds of spending cuts in Ryan’s budget—69 percent—come from gutting programs that serve low-income people. And after his 2014 poverty tour, he proposed slashing $125 billion from the enormously effective Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) over the next 10 years. He also proposed cuts to Medicaid, a critical program that provides health care to 70 million Americans, including low-income children, seniors, and people with disabilities. Ryan has also proposed Opportunity Grants, which are a problematic model for assistance since they open the door to block grants, a funding structure that has historically resulted in deep cuts to key components of our nation’s safety net.
Speaker Ryan and the GOP presidential candidates also oppose policies that would actually help people climb out of poverty. Raising the minimum wage to $12 by 2020 would boost the wages of 35 million Americans and save nearly $53 billion in taxpayer dollars because fewer working families would need to turn to SNAP benefits to make ends meet. All of the GOP candidates attending Ryan’s forum have said they would not increase the federal minimum wage: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, and Marco Rubio have voiced their opposition, while Chris Christie vetoed an increase in the New Jersey minimum wage as governor of New Jersey. Not to be outdone, Ryan has voted against raising the minimum wage at least 10 times since he’s been in office. GOP candidates also want to undermine other programs that create the safety net for the poor: for example, Jeb Bush’s new welfare reform plan would eliminate SNAP, housing vouchers, and other programs that families need when they fall on hard times.
While the GOP candidates oppose policies that help the poor, they propose tax plans that would provide massive windfalls to the wealthy. For example, Jeb Bush’s tax plan would cost $6.8 trillion in the first ten years, while giving an average tax cut of $808,196 to taxpayers in the top 0.1%, who make at least $3,794,482 a year. Ben Carson’s plan goes even further: it costs $9.6 trillion and would raise taxes on low-income families. And Marco Rubio’s tax plan would add $11.8 trillion to the national debt over the next decade, while giving the top 1% an average tax cut of more than $220,000 a year.
At the state level, Republican policies have been particularly cruel to people living in poverty. Despite the fact the Ohio is one of the 10 worst states for hunger, Governor John Kasich, who is a GOP presidential candidate, has restricted access to food stamps for unemployed residents—even if they live in regions with few job opportunities. Many states with Republican governors restrict families’ access to necessary assistance through restrictive asset tests, which force low-income families to sacrifice their shot at economic mobility by requiring that they get rid of any savings or assets before they can gain access to assistance.
While Republicans continue to attack programs that make up the necessary safety net, studies repeatedly show that the safety net is both working and an important tool for helping families move up the economic ladder. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds, the safety net has led to a significant decrease in poverty since the War on Poverty began. Contrary to Speaker Ryan’s claim that the safety net is a “hammock” that keeps people dependent, research shows that these important programs actually promote opportunity and increase economic mobility over the long run. And the safety net is nearly ten times more effective at reducing poverty in 2014 than in 1967.
BOTTOM LINE: Though Speaker Ryan and the GOP presidential candidates may like to view themselves as anti-poverty crusaders, their records demonstrate that they’re invested more in an economy that works only for the wealthy few and not for those who need the most help. The media coverage may not always show it, but Republicans shouldn’t be allowed to claim credit for ideas to “address poverty” in Saturday’s forum if all they’re pledging to do is recycle more of the same plans to eviscerate the basic services that people living in poverty depend on.
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