WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday proposed an overhaul of the nation’s poverty programs, the first of several policy plans aimed at uniting Republicans fractured by a contentious election and Donald Trump’s personality-driven politics.
The proposal, unveiled at the House of Help City of Hope, an alcohol and drug treatment program in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, would make changes to welfare, food and housing aid, among other programs, to increase work requirements, make the aid more efficient and allow states to make more decisions about how it is distributed.
Ryan and several House committee chairmen met the organization’s founder, Shirley Holloway, and later praised her for working with addicted individuals and helping lift them out of poverty. Ryan contrasted that approach with treating the symptoms of poverty through welfare programs.
“They are not isolating the poor, they are elevating the poor,” Ryan said
Ryan won’t immediately translate most of these ideas into legislation, since his major points wouldn’t be enacted under President Barack Obama. But the idea is to set the stage for the future if a Republican should become president.
Ryan says Republicans need to better define what they are for, not just what they are against. The policy rollout was overshadowed by questions about Trump and his recent comments.
Questioned by reporters, Ryan said Trump made the “textbook definition of a racist comment” in saying an American-born judge isn’t qualified to preside over a case because of his Mexican heritage. The speaker stood by his endorsement of the presumptive GOP nominee.
Trump has said U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel can’t be impartial in lawsuits against Trump University because his parents were born in Mexico and Trump wants to build a wall along the border. Curiel was born in Indiana.
Trump himself has said little about what he would do with poverty programs, and has not highlighted the issue as one of his major policy concerns.
The attention on Trump’s often-controversial rhetoric has frustrated lawmakers in both the House and Senate who would rather voters be focused on the Republican policy agenda.
Ryan endorsed Trump last week after a lengthy delay, making clear that is support is largely due to the fact that a Republican president could help him enact his longtime policy goals. Overhauling the nation’s welfare and nutrition programs has long been a priority for Ryan, who also plans to release a national security plan on Thursday. Policy plans on regulations, the constitution, health care and taxes will roll out in the coming weeks.
Ryan says major change is needed because current programs haven’t changed the poverty rate over the last five decades and Washington is measuring success by how much it spends, not how much it helps. The idea is to create incentives for states to improve programs, for more beneficiaries to work and for employers to provide more work. Among the policy suggestions is to consolidate some federal food aid and housing aid programs, though the plan does not lay out exactly how that would be done or which programs would be consolidated.
Some of the proposals, such as scaling back the Obama administration’s stricter nutrition rules for school meals, are already in motion. The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved legislation along party lines last month that would allow more flexibility to schools in serving meals and reduce the number of free and reduced price meals served in some schools.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi dismissed the Ryan proposal.
“Sadly, beneath the sugary rhetoric of the poverty proposal unveiled today, Republicans are advancing the same callous, trickle down policies they’ve been pushing for years,” the California lawmaker said in a statement.