Much noise was generated recently about Paul Ryan's supposed evolution on poverty. Every year, Ryan designs his ideal budget for the federal government, always calling for deep cuts to the social welfare system. In more recent iterations of his budget, he focused almost all of his enormous cuts to the social welfare system on antipoverty programs, leaving the parts of the social welfare system used by the nonpoor--like Social Security and Medicare--basically unscathed.
But when Ryan released a poverty plan last week, it featured restructured antipoverty programs--without reduced budgets. Was this an unprecedented change of heart--even a mea culpa--by the Republican wonk-in-chief? Had he reached a new understanding of poverty? Some thought so. Here, for example, is Ezra Klein's gullible write-up of Ryan's poverty plan entitled Democrats should welcome Paul Ryan's poverty plan. At the end, he concludes:
There will be charges of hypocrisy against Ryan's plan, and they're merited: his poverty plan and his budget cannot coexist in the same universe at the same time. Conservatives who spent the last few years cheering Ryan's budget are now cheering his poverty policies need to ask themselves some hard questions.To his credit, Klein later interviewed a very skeptical Bob Greenstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, who douses cold water on Klein's hope for an evolution on poverty by Ryan and the Republicans. (Klein should be lauded for his willingness to post interviews with people who convincingly refute each point of his previous columns; most would instead double down.)
But more important than the contradictions in Ryan's plans is their progression: Ryan is refocusing himself and, perhaps, the Republican Party on reducing poverty by making the government's anti-poverty programs work better: that's a project that's both more important for the country and more amenable to compromise. Democrats should welcome it.
Greenstein argues that every word of Paul Ryan's plan is designed to sound like a reform of antipoverty programs--plans to make them work better with the same amount of funding--but are actually designed to create opportunities to gut them in years to come. Ryan's poverty plan is a Trojan horse--a vehicle secretly designed to make a reality the deep cuts to the social welfare state he envisions in his budgets.
Paul Ryan is certainly capable of this type of deceit. As I wrote previously, deceit is utterly foundational to his career. He would be a complete unknown if he hadn't cloaked all of his budget proposals in lies. Each one of the budgets he prepares every year utilizes confusing baselines or incomplete information to hide what he actually wants to do: gut the social welfare state. Ryan's consistent efforts to win support by confusing voters and pundits reveal that even Ryan knows how unpopular his intentions are. His efforts to cloak in his 2010 budget the destruction of Medicare and taxes increases on 95% of all Americans are particularly amusing. Ryan wouldn't be a major figure if he promised budgetary miracles while delivering tax increases on 95% of Americans and a hollowed-out Medicare; he's only a major figure because he promises budgetary miracles while concealing tax increases on 95% of Americans and a hollowed-out Medicare.