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 new anti-poverty plan the House budget committee chairman proposes.
Previous GOP plans 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 budgets have tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, privatize Medicare, and cut social services, while slashing taxes for wealthy Americans.
This time, Mr. Ryan proposes consolidating the $800 billion that the government spends each year on food stamps, housing aid, and other items into an “opportunity grant” that would be given to each state. The plan would probably increase poverty, not reduce it.
Food stamps and unemployment insurance are stabilizers during recessions, helping poorer Americans who must use a greater portion of their income for necessities. Since states would receive only a fixed amount of money each 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.
Other parts of Mr. Ryan’s proposal are more encouraging. He says the federal earned-income tax credit, which promotes work for those who make low pay, should be expanded. He calls for reform of federal drug laws that have led to over-incarceration for minor offenses.
Regardless of Mr. Ryan’s shift on some topics, though, his block-grant approach to poverty will hurt the Americans who need help the most.