WASHINGTON - House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan is taking aim at the nation's poverty programs, unveiling an ambitious report Monday that will underpin Republican budget priorities this election year.
The former Republican vice presidential nominee is long on criticism of the nearly $800 billion in government spending on more than 90 different poverty programs in 2012 that provided food, housing, education and other assistance for low-income Americans.
But the report is short on policy prescriptions, which are coming later from the budget chairman.
The conservative budget guru intends to rally House Republicans around an overhaul of the federal safety net, posing a direct election year confrontation with the White House over the growing issue of income inequality.
"This report will help start the conversation. It shows that some programs work; others don't. And for many of them, we just don't know," Ryan said. "Clearly, we can do better."
Pushing the poverty debate forward in an election year poses risks and potential rewards for Republicans, who are tapping into an issue that could motivate base voters inclined to see federal spending as excessive. But the focus could also alienate more moderate or independent voters if hard-liners within the party take a more extreme approach to poverty aid.
Ryan, a potential 2016 presidential nominee, argued that the nation's stubborn poverty rate, which has remained largely steady in the 50 years since President Lyndon B. Johson's "War on Poverty." The rate was 17.3% in 1965 and is 15% today, the report said.
Other top Republicans, including Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), have also waded into this arena.
However, Democrats and anti-poverty advocates say that the vast safety net launched by Johnson have helped keep more Americans from falling into poverty.
[For the record, 1:37 p.m. March 3: An earlier version of this post described Ryan as a former presidential nominee. He was the GOP vice presidential nominee in 2012.]
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