Paul Ryan: War on poverty has failed

Chairman of the House Budget Committee Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., offers remarks while joined by others form the GOP leadership, during a media availability following a Republican Conference meeting at the U.S. Capitol, December 11, 2013, in Washington, DC. Rod Lamkey, Getty Images

After fighting a “war on poverty” for 50 years, the federal government doesn’t have much to show for it, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., charged Thursday.

“I’d give us a failing grade,” he told NBC’s Brian Williams during a conversation at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., when he was asked how he would score the government’s record in the half-century since former President Lyndon Johnson declared a “war on poverty.”

“We should’ve done better than this,” he said. “We can do better than this -- trillions of dollars of spending on this, and as you mentioned, 46.5 million people in poverty. It’s the highest rate in a generation, and look what we have to show for it. Look at all the lives and all the potential that is not being reached and tapped.”

Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee who has been trying to step into the compassionate conservative mold once cast by former congressman and 1996 Republican vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp, blamed a misguided focus on government largesse for the less-than-satisfactory results of the war on poverty.

The government keeps “dumping money into programs we know won’t work,” he said.

And instead of continuing to fund programs that don’t produce results, Ryan said, policymakers should spend some time in impoverished communities, talking with those on the front line of the fight against poverty about what works and what doesn’t.

He also blamed a structure that keeps poor people trapped in downtrodden circumstances instead of empowering them to better their station in life, singling out the education system as a particularly pernicious element of this self-perpetuating cycle of poverty.

“This isn’t about deprivation as much as it’s about isolation, and in many ways our strategies have isolated the poor from the rest of society,” he said. “We need to reinvigorate and reintegrate the poor into our communities. And it means you can’t just say I paid my taxes, government’s going to take care of this.”

“This is something that the government on its own cannot solve,” he added.

Ryan is one of several Republicans who have recently laid out anti-poverty agendas, including Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Mike Lee, R-Utah.

President Obama and congressional Demcorats have vowed to make the fight against poverty and income inequality a defining issue in the upcoming 2014 midterm elections. Both parties are currently locked in a dispute over extending recently-lapsed federal unemployment insurance and hiking the federal minimum wage.

  • Jake Miller

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