11 January 2016

Republican man with a poverty plan


Instead of running for president, Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan is trying to move the election campaign in a different direction – from immigration and anger to poverty and economic opportunity. This past weekend he and Sen. Tim Scott hosted the Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity, Named for Ryan’s political mentor and one-time Republican presidential candidate, the late Rep. Jack Kemp.

Ryan started focusing more attention on poverty and studying the causes and potential remedies right after the GOP lost the presidential election of 2012, when he served as Mitt Romney’s running mate. “This is something I’ve always cared about. But it’s something that I think needed even more emphasis after my experience in 2012, because we have a bifurcated country, we have a polarized country,” Ryan told National Review ahead of the forum. “One of the reasons I think it’s polarized is because of identity politics on the left. Now some on the right are playing it.”

At the event, Ryan and Scott outlined why the discussion was so important when 47 million Americans are poor and it is clearer than ever that what Washington has been doing isn’t “solving” anything. “We’ve been fighting a war on poverty for over 50 years now, and I don’t think you conclude anything other than this war is a stalemate,” Ryan told the audience at the outset of the forum. “We’ve treated poverty like they’re potholes that need to be filled up and then we move on. … We now have a safety net that is designed to catch people falling into poverty when what we really need is a safety net that is designed to help get people out of poverty.”

Scott Winship explains how the record of work-based reforms to the existing policies are what have succeeded in reducing poverty, as happened with the bipartisan 1996 welfare reform legislation.

In the 16 years between 1980 and 1996, the share of never-married mothers who worked rose by 10 points, from 40 percent to 50 percent,” Winship quotes a report from the American Enterprise Institute and Brookings Institution. “But in the next four years, the work rate rose by 15 points, hitting 65 percent in 2000. The employment rate fell thereafter but was still 59 percent in 2013.

Jeb Bush was obviously listening to Winship (who has advised him on these matters) when he issued his welfare policy proposal right before the forum. “We will create a safety net that protects hard-working Americans who fall on hard times, but no longer traps families in perpetual dependence,” Mr. Bush said in the policy paper.

Ben Carson, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Marco Rubio all attended the forum, while Ted Cruz and Donald Trump did not. Several candidates agree that having anti-poverty and safety-net monies transferred from Washington to the states would be best. Tax credits were also touted as useful.

“Our safety net in America today does not cure poverty,” Rubio said at the convention center when the forum was held. “It treats the pain of poverty, the symptoms of poverty, but it does not cure it. The only cure for poverty is a good-paying job.”

Some folks who live in a nearby, low-income housing project might have been surprised to hear Rubio and the rest focus on the poor. “The candidates keep going on about ISIS…. What about our problems right here?” asked Lashonda Williams, 37, who told the Wall Street Journal she’d lost her job in the dining hall of the Fort Jackson military base after she took medical leave.

Ryan isn’t running for commander and chief, but he’s done quite a bit now to show his party’s candidates the way toward beginning to focus on voters like Williams along with the millions of others the GOP ignores at their peril.

Abby W. Schachter is editor of CapX America.