For years, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has been considered the intellectual heavyweight among congressional Republicans on fiscal issues — often at the expense of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens. Not much has changed, given the anti-poverty proposal the House budget committee chairman laid out last week.
Previous plans endorsed by Republicans were thinly veiled attempts to shred the social safety net on the discredited theory that the country could cut its way to prosperity.
Mr. Ryan’s past budgets have tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, privatize Medicare and cut social services, all while slashing taxes for the wealthy.
This time Mr. Ryan does not advocate cutting the overall size of federal aid programs, but he does propose consolidating the $800 billion that the government spends on food stamps, housing assistance and other items into a single so-called “Opportunity Grant” that would be provided to each state.
Unfortunately, the plan would probably increase poverty rather than reduce it. Food stamps and unemployment insurance serve as stabilizers during recessions, providing help to struggling Americans who must use a greater portion of their income for necessities.
Since states would receive only a fixed amount of money per year that could not be easily adjusted in times of economic trouble, moving to a block grant system would make these programs less responsive to actual need.
But other parts of Mr. Ryan’s proposal were encouraging. He said the earned-income tax credit, which promotes work for those making low pay, should be expanded, and he called for reform of federal drug laws that have led to over-incarceration for minor offenses.
Mr. Ryan’s new approach to unfair drug laws echoes the stance of Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, who voiced strong support for sentencing reform and restoration of the Voting Rights Act in a speech to the National Urban League on Friday. Both men may be testing their positions with an eye toward running for president in 2016.
Regardless of Mr. Ryan’s shift on some topics, his block-granted approach to poverty will hurt the Americans who need help the most.