Paul Ryan lays out anti-poverty agenda

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) criticized liberals Saturday for seeking to expand programs he said have adversely affected the poor, laying out reforms he said will reverse the course of the country’s 50-year effort to lift people out of poverty.

“For all its professed concern about families in need, Washington is more concerned with protecting the status quo than with pursuing what actually works,” Ryan wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

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“For years, politicians have pointed to the money they’ve spent or the programs they’ve created,” he continued. “But despite trillions of dollars in spending, 47 million Americans still live in poverty today. And the reason is simple: Poverty isn’t just a form of deprivation; it’s a form of isolation. Crime, drugs and broken families are dragging down millions of Americans. On every measure from education levels to marriage rates, poor families are drifting further away from the middle class.”

Ryan proposed collapsing various welfare programs into a universal credit that tapers off, giving parents more means to educate their children, and job training programs that match employers with those seeking employment.

Ryan said the policies currently coming out of Washington are only “deepening the divide” between the wealthy and the poor.

“Over the past 50 years, the federal government has created different programs to fix different problems, so there’s little or no coordination among them,” he said. “And because these programs are means-tested—meaning that families become ineligible for them as they earn more—poor families effectively face very high marginal tax rates, in some cases over 80%. So the government actually discourages them from getting ahead.”

Sens. Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Mike Lee have also recently pushed new anti-poverty platforms. Republicans are seeking to reclaim high-ground on the issue from Democrats who have framed the GOP as the party of the wealthy.

Democrats are committed to making economic fairness a top issue heading into the 2014 midterm elections.

“Poverty isn't a rare disease from which the rest of us are immune,” Ryan continued. “It's the worst strain of a widespread scourge: economic insecurity. That's why concern for the poor isn't a policy niche; it goes to the heart of the American experiment. What the poor really need is to be reintegrated into our communities. But Washington is walling them up in a massive quarantine.”

Earlier this month, President Obama marked the 50th anniversary of former President Lyndon Baines Johnson's "war on poverty" address by arguing government programs on education, healthcare and jobs have had a positive impact on the nation.

Obama credited programs like Social Security, Medicare and the Earned Income Tax Credit with lifting millions of people from poverty and preventing millions more from experiencing economic distress. 

The president also pledged to “redouble” efforts to strengthen the social safety net through an expansion of entitlement programs, government initiatives and raising the minimum wage.