Paul Ryan Brings Much-Needed Ideas to Poverty Problem

Just a few short years ago the Republican Party was widely thought of as simply “The Party of No,” which is to say they had no concrete policy proposals other than merely saying “no” to any expansion of the federal government’s role in solving policy problems.

Democrats, on the other hand, were at least thinking about and proposing reforms to problems like immigration, college costs, climate change, economic mobility, and health care costs. Granted, many of their ideas were terrible, but they at least convinced voters that they were at least attempting solutions.

But over the past several years the tide has begun to shift. Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio, who is leading the charge on things like Social Security and student loan reform, Sen. Mike Lee, who has offered a conservative vision of tax policy, Sen. Rand Paul, who is working on transforming America’s prisons and Sen. Richard Burr, who has put together a well-received replacement for Obamacare, are showing that the GOP is now the party of far-reaching, fresh ideas.

In the meantime Democrats have fallen behind. As Danny Vinik writes for the liberal magazine The New Republic, the Democratic Party faces a “growing problem. . . [t]heir ideas are growing stale.” Vinik goes on to argue that “in comparison to what Republicans have proposed, [Democrats’] ideas look small” or “leave many other issues unresolved.”

The contrast between the two parties became clearer this week when the GOP’s resident “ideas man,” Paul Ryan, introduced his anti-poverty plan.

Ryan first became a household name based on his breathtakingly comprehensive reform plan entitled the Roadmap for America’s Future. The plan didn’t just graze the political third rail, it grasped it with both hands and bent it to his political advantage. It covered everything from providing premium support to allow Medicare recipients to choose an insurance plan that suits their needs, to fundamental tax reform, to reductions in discretionary spending; you name it, it covered it.

But as Henry Olsen writes for National Review, Ryan’s new anti-poverty agenda shows that he’s adapting and expanding his reform plan in some much-needed ways.

“His release of a 73-page comprehensive anti-poverty agenda, Expanding Opportunity in America, does what the original Roadmap did not: focus on what government can and ought to do to help people who are already enmeshed in our national safety net,” Olsen writes.

Namely, the plan tries to turn the safety net into more of a trampoline, aimed less at providing a comfortable place to fall when tough times hit than a tool to help a person rebound back into self-sufficiency.

“The problem with all these federal programs is that they’re fragmented and formulaic,” Ryan wrote in an explanatory op-ed for USA Today. “They don’t see how people’s needs interact. And what’s worse, they measure success by how much they spend, not how much good they do. Instead, we need to measure success by results – that is, by how many people we’re helping get out of poverty.”

The proposal is necessarily far reaching. It creates an “Opportunity Grant,” that consolidates the confusing and overlapping web of federal anti-poverty programs to allow states more flexibility in serving their citizens in need. Recipients of the consolidated funding stream would enter into contracts that set meaningful goals for them to achieve.

The Earned Income Tax Credit, which has received bipartisan support, would be doubled, from $500 to $1,000 per childless adult, expanded to include more age groups, and reformed to better incentivize recipients to work. To pay for it Ryan’s plan would eliminate a number of corporate and agricultural welfare programs.

The plan would also adjust the way the federal government spends education dollars, an attempt to refocus the debate away from the amount of dollars spent and towards the outcomes achieved. Ryan does this in several ways: Convert several funding streams into block grants to allow either states or parents to experiment with different education models, change the higher education accreditation process to encourage democratize college and incentivize innovative models, and refocus federal jobs-training programs toward what employers currently need.

None of that fully comes close to what Ryan is proposing. His plan also seeks to address criminal sentencing and reduce recidivism, reduce regulations that impact economic growth, and encourage evidence-based policymaking.

Will the plan make everyone happy? But as Ryan says, “Our country has had enough politics, Let’s talk solutions.”

Are Democrats ready for the conversation? It doesn’t sound like it.