Ryan to propose deficit-neutral anti-poverty plan

Paul Ryan (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
Paul Ryan (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) this week will shift from his years-long focus on cutting spending to a new anti-poverty proposal that consolidates existing programs and gives more flexibility to the states — part of an effort to reorient the Republican Party away from the battles of previous years and toward addressing economic anxieties of the most disadvantaged Americans.

Ryan will announce the new proposal Thursday amid a battery of ideas aimed at reshaping the GOP as a party seeking to boost the fortunes of the poor and working class. He will endorse an expansion of a tax-credit for the working poor similar to one that President Obama has also proposed and other measures to overhaul education and criminal justice programs.

Echoing an idea that has been gaining traction among conservative intellectuals, Ryan will propose a pilot program whereby the federal government consolidates existing safety-net programs into a single grant offered to a state. It would group programs such as food stamps and housing aid, although it would not include Medicaid, the health program for the poor.

Ryan is not proposing any spending cuts, and he will pledge that the resources given to the state will equal what it would have received under the current law. “It is important to note that this is not a budget-cutting exercise—this is a reform proposal,” according to a Ryan document obtained by The Post. The new state grant will be called an “Opportunity Grant.” The document says state initiatives would be subject to accountability standards.

Ryan’s decision not to immediately seek savings with his safety net proposal is striking because, as House Budget Committee chairman, he’s been known for budgets that dramatically cut spending in hopes of paying down the debt.

Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, has spent more than a year working to develop policy proposals that both address contemporary anxieties and bear a distinctly conservative imprimatur. But he has until now shied away from offering specific proposals.

Other proposals Ryan will make include: giving states more flexibility in federal education and job training programs; proposals to help low-risk, non-violent offenders avoid going back to jail; and overhauling regulations.

(More soon.)

Zachary A. Goldfarb is policy editor at The Washington Post.
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