Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), this week revived his quest to be taken seriously as a "reformist" conservative ("reformicon" is becoming the preferred terminology) by releasing a position paper on refashioning the federal government's poverty programs.
Ryan's latest report bears some marginal improvements over his previous effort in the anti-poverty line, which we examined here, as well as his string of proposed budgets. It doesn't propose the same wholesale slashes in the social safety net as his earlier proposals, for example. Ryan advocates increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit, one of the most effective federal assistance programs, as does President
That said, he would pay for the increase by removing benefits from some immigrant families, and treats the increase as an alternative to a hike in the minimum wage. (Responds Chuck Marr of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: "It takes both a strong EITC and an adequate minimum wage to ensure that work 'pays' adequately for those in low-wage jobs. The two policies should be seen as complements, not substitutes.")
The centerpiece of Ryan's plan is where the real danger lies. It's a proposal to combine 11 safety net programs, including food stamps, into a single block grant to the states.
He promises the total would equal annual spending on the separate programs -- "This new, simpler stream of funding would become the Opportunity Grant, and it would be budget neutral," he told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute this week. "The state would get the same amount of money as under current law — not a penny less."
This is a bow to the notion of the states as laboratories of democracy, closer to the problems of their citizens and thus better equipped to deal with their problems. It's a good sound bite, but how has it worked in the past?