9 Ways Rep. Ryan’s Empty Rhetoric Masks the Reality of His Policy Proposals

Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. waves after speaking to supporters about upward mobility and the economy during a campaign rally at the Walter B. Waetjen Auditorium at Cleveland State University, Wednesday, October 24, 2012, in Cleveland, Ohio.

In a speech at Cleveland State University yesterday, Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (WI) talked about upward mobility and the economy. But instead of offering real solutions to lift more than 46 million Americans out of poverty and create an economy that works for all, Rep. Ryan stuck to conservative rhetoric that paints safety net programs as the problem rather than as the essential support for struggling families who fall on hard times. Rep. Ryan’s reliance on rhetoric served to veil the policy proposals he supports, which would devastate families and children living in poverty.

As telling as what Rep. Ryan said is what he didn’t say. Though 10.5 million Americans are working poor—meaning that they spent at least half the year in the labor force but their incomes were still below the poverty line—he provided no policy prescriptions for improving job quality, such as increasing the minimum wage, continuing tax credits for working families, or providing paid sick days so that parents don’t have to worry about losing their job when their child gets sick.

Here are nine ways Rep. Ryan’s empty rhetoric in his speech yesterday masks the reality his policies would create for families in need.


Empty rhetoric: “But above all else is the pressing need for jobs. … [Gov. Romney] has set a clear goal: 12 million new jobs over the next four years.”  

Reality: Experts debunk this claim.[1] Analysis by the Center for American Progress Action Fund reveals that the Romney economic plan would actually result in lost jobs or, at best, only add a fraction of the jobs created under President Barack Obama’s current economic policies.[2]

The safety net

Empty rhetoric: “Where government is entrusted with providing a safety net, Mitt Romney and I have our own vision for how to keep it strong.”

Reality: Rep. Ryan’s budget would devastate the safety net by making deep cuts and converting essential programs into block grants. His Medicaid cuts would cause 31 million Americans to lose access to health insurance over the next 10 years. And his budget would kick 8 million to 10 million people off of nutrition assistance.[3]

Rhetoric: Government antipoverty programs foster a “culture of dependency.”

Reality: Three times as many people who rely on supplemental nutrition assistance have income from work compared to those who rely on the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.[4] Rep. Ryan fails to address the proliferation of low-wage work that keeps working families mired in poverty.

Empty rhetoric: “Welfare reform worked. … we saw child poverty rates fall over 20 percent in four years.”

Reality: Rep. Ryan doesn’t mention that child poverty rates then proceeded to rise again as soon as the Great Recession of 2007–2009 hit,[5] and that the temporary income assistance provided to these families in dire need has lost 30 percent of its value since 1996. The program was not equipped to respond to the sharpest economic downturn since the Great Depression.[6]

Equal opportunity

Empty rhetoric: “We owe every child a chance to succeed.”

Reality: The very services and supports that kids and families struggling with poverty need to succeed would face drastic cuts under Rep. Ryan’s own budget. Under his plan 191,000 kids would lose access to early education, 22 million kids could lose or see reduced nutrition assistance, and child care would be cut for 4 million children.[7]

Empty rhetoric: “Sending your child to a great school should not be a privilege of the well to do.”

Reality: Yet when it comes to higher education, Rep. Ryan supports cuts to Pell Grants, which enable young adults from low-income backgrounds to attend college. In 2013 alone he would cut Pell Grants by 42 percent, which would eliminate grants for more than 1 million students, reduce remaining grants for others, and increase the burden of student loan debt on young people and their families.[8]

Empty rhetoric: “Even though so many barriers to equality have fallen, too many old inequities persist. Too many children, especially African American and Hispanic children, are sent into mediocre schools and expected to perform with excellence.”

Reality: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s plan would do nothing to fix unfair and inequitable school funding systems that, on average, send $733 more per student to mostly white schools than mostly nonwhite schools.[9] Moreover, his plan would do nothing to fix or improve chronically underperforming schools.[10]

The federal debt

Empty rhetoric: “Debt on this scale is destructive in so many ways, and one of them is that it crowds out civil society by drawing resources away from private giving.”                 

Reality: Private charities cannot alone meet the needs facing America’s poor. Should cuts to supplemental nutrition assistance in the Ryan budget take effect, churches across America would need to come up with $50,000 each to make up the difference.

Empty rhetoric:  “Even worse is the prospect of a debt crisis, which will come unless we do something very soon. When government’s own finances collapse, society’s most vulnerable are the first victims.”

Reality: Poverty reduction and deficit reduction are not mutually exclusive goals. A budget plan put forth by the Center for American Progress demonstrates that we can dramatically reduce poverty and balance the budget by 2030.[11]

Katie Wright is a Research Associate at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.


[1] Glenn Kessler, “Fact Check: Romney’s 12 million jobs,” The Washington Post, October 16, 2012, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/election-2012/wp/2012/10/16/fact-check-romneys-12-million-jobs/.

[2] Aviva Shen, “The 12 million jobs lie,” Think Progress, October 16, 2012, available at http://thinkprogress.org/lbupdate/1026181/the-12-million-jobs-lie/.

[3] Melissa Boteach, “10 Questions for Mitt Romney on Poverty and Opportunity in America” (Washington: Center for American Progress Action Fund, 2012), available at


[4] Food and Nutrition Service, Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2010 (Washington: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2011), available at http://www.fns.usda.gov/ora/MENU/Published/snap/FILES/Participation/2010Characteristics.pdf.

[5] Joy Moses, “Playing Political Games with Temporary Financial Assistance Waivers” (Washington: Center for American Progress Action Fund, 2012), available at http://www.americanprogressaction.org/issues/poverty/report/2012/09/19/38557/playing-political-games-with-temporary-financial-assistance-waivers/.

[6] Melissa Boteach, “Welfare Reform’s 16th Birthday is Anything But Sweet,” Think Progress, August 22, 2012, available at http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2012/08/22/724471/welfare-reform-16th-birthday/.

[7] Melissa Boteach, “10 Questions for Mitt Romney on Poverty and Opportunity in America.”

[8] Stephen Steigleder, “The Ryan Budget’s Pell Grant Cuts Put College Out of Reach for Low-Income Students” (Washington: Center for American Progress Action Fund, 2012), available at http://www.americanprogressaction.org/issues/higher-education/report/2012/08/28/34421/the-ryan-budgets-pell-grant-cuts-put-college-out-of-reach-for-low-income-students/.

[9] Ary Spatig-Amerikaner, “Unequal Education: Federal Loophole Enables Lower Spending on Students of Color” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2012), available at http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education/report/2012/08/22/29002/unequal-education/.

[10] Jeremy Ayers, “Romney’s Paltry Education Plan” (Washington: Center for American Progress Action Fund, 2012), available at http://www.americanprogressaction.org/issues/education/report/2012/08/30/35053/romneys-paltry-education-plan/.

[11] Michael Ettlinger, Michael Linden, and Seth Hanlon, “Budgeting for Growth and Prosperity: A Long-term Plan to Balance the Budget, Grow the Economy, and Strengthen the Middle Class” Center for American Progress, May 25, 2011, available at http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/05/budgeting_for_growth.html.