Paul Ryan wages war on the War on Poverty

CNN/ Newswire | 3/3/2014, 4:05 p.m.
Rep. Paul Ryan concludes that 50 years after President Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty, a pathway out of ...
After campaignging in Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, and Ohio the day before Election Day, Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan returned to his home state for a fifth rally on Monday, November 5, 2012 at General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

By Leigh Ann Caldwell


Rep. Paul Ryan concludes that 50 years after President Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty, a pathway out of poverty has become a patchwork of bureaucratic challenges.

The Wisconsin Republican has zeroed in on the subject in a comprehensive analysis that points to repetition and inefficiencies in federal poverty programs.

Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and a possible 2016 presidential candidate, released the 204-page report one day before President Barack Obama was due to unveil his budget blueprint for the next fiscal year.

Obama aims to ignite a conversation about federal safety net spending. Fifteen percent of Americans, nearly 50 million people, live in poverty.

Ryan's report questions the size and scope of the government's effort to tackle poverty. It says 92 federal programs geared for low-income people cost $799 billion per year.

"For too long, we have measured compassion by how much we spend instead of how many people get out of poverty," Ryan wrote said in a statement. "We need to take a hard look at what the federal government is doing and ask, 'Is this working?'"

Considered a Republican policy visionary, the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee released the report amid a listening and learning tour of low-income neighborhoods that began 18 months ago after President Barack Obama was reelected.

Ryan toured struggling neighborhoods with Bob Woodson, the head of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, an organization that works with disenfranchised people.

In an interview with CNN in December, Woodson applauded Ryan's efforts because before he could write policy, he "needs to understand what the needs are."

Ryan's report is highly critical of many of the programs, saying they contribute to the "poverty trap."

Because "benefits decline as recipients make more money - poor families face very high implicit marginal tax rates. The federal government effectively discourages them from making more money," the report says.

It does not detail any solutions or alternatives; it identifies the programs, their cost and sites reports and studies on each program, with many concluding that the programs due more harm than good.

For instance, in his analysis of the Social Security Insurance program for disabled, Ryan points to a report that says: "At age 18, approximately two-thirds of beneficiaries remain on adult SSI benefits."

But not all of the reports he sites give negative reviews.

For instance, Ryan cited numerous reports analyzing assistance for low-income families for child care found the program was effective in helping women enter the work force or enroll in education or job training programs.

"This report will help start the conversation. It shows that some programs work; others don't. And for many of them, we just don't know," Ryan said.

The report comes as Obama has amplified the issue of the growing wage gap between the rich and the poor, making income inequality a signature theme for this year that includes lifting the minimum wage.

Ryan, who is a vocal advocate of a smaller government, has already met intense skepticism.