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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/11/16

Ryan's new Congress agenda is wrong, safety net has not failed

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Paul Ryan makes a point during his speech at Carroll University in Waukesha.
Paul Ryan makes a point during his speech at Carroll University in Waukesha.
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Article originally published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

By Robert Weiner and William Kim

House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that he will release a Republican congressional agenda of six policy papers, and he released the first one, focusing on poverty, this week. The agenda will be titled "A Better Way " with a "vision for A Confident America."

Ryan's premise that he has repeatedly stated is that "the safety net has failed."

In fact, Ryan's premise of "failure" is wrong. He'd at least partially privatize Social Security, which has reduced seniors' poverty from the 44% it would be to just 9%, according to the Center for American Progress. It is the most successful social program in American history.

He'd radically cut food stamps, now called SNAP, which have stopped hunger for 46 million Americans and allowed them to find jobs. He'd reverse the successful Clinton welfare reform that, despite liberal protestations at the time, enhanced the program with work requirements while allowing poor families to survive; and in sum, would carry out the long-standing Republican dream of ending Roosevelt's New Deal legacy that gave people hope and ended the Great Depression.

He talks about "opportunities" against poverty, but the only opportunities he'll provide are for big businesses and the super rich, hoping that tax breaks for the rich will become jobs for everyone. The Congressional Budget Office and Library of Congress say that tax breaks for the wealthy only give a fifth of the bang for our buck as direct jobs programs. While Republicans regularly ask, "Where are the jobs?", Congress has failed to pass President Barack Obama's American Jobs Act that would have added a million jobs and reduced unemployment by a full percent.

It is a myth that adding money to the wealthy through tax cuts stimulates jobs and grows the economy. Trickle-down economics has not worked since Herbert Hoover tried it.

On June 2, Ryan tweeted that he will vote for Trump; Ryan said he is "confident" Trump "will help turn the House GOP agenda into laws." Time will tell. One reason Ryan and presidential candidate Donald Trump for weeks couldn't have an endorsement lovefest was that even Trump couldn't go along with Ryan's goals of reducing Social Security, giving American jobs away (in Trump's view) by free trade agreements and refusing to "build a wall" against immigrants. It will be interesting to see how close the congressional hard right agenda will be to Trump's gut-created agenda. We will see who caves to whom as the "unification" proceeds.

Ryan's previous budgets, notably his so-called "Path to Prosperity" put the writing on the wall.

Both parties' presumptive presidential nominees have stated that they will not cut Social Security. Ryan has made no such pledge and included cuts and privatization in his past plans.

Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" also contained $40 billion in food stamp cuts. Carol Olander, then-director of SNAP Research and Analysis at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service said in 2012 that food stamps reduced poverty by 8% in one year alone (2009), and called it a "myth" that the program "abused" tax dollars given that "95% of federal spending" goes "directly to low-income participants in the form of benefits."

Ryan's agenda calls for most anti-poverty spending to be transferred into "State Flexibility Funds," meaning block grants. Block grants have routinely become smaller over time. They are just another way for Republicans to get rid of government programs. Richard Kogan, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, found that out of 11 major block grant programs, eight shrank significantly since 2001.

The Republican position also eliminates Obamacare, which has given health insurance to 20 million who previously could not get covered.

Under Democratic presidents since 1930, who have emphasized people programs and resisted tax breaks for the wealthiest, annual GDP growth averaged 5%, according to Commerce Department and Office of Management and Budget statistics. Bill Clinton added 23 million jobs and balanced his last three budgets. Obama has enjoyed six straight years of monthly job growth. Under Republican presidents who enacted tax cuts for the rich, GDP has only grown by 1.6%.

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