Paul Ryan in Ohio: ‘In this war on poverty, poverty’s winning’

GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan on Wednesday said that “poverty’s winning” in America due to the current administration’s policies.

"Upward mobility is the central promise of life in America. But right now, the engines of upward mobility are not running as they should,” the Wisconsin congressman said, speaking at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Ohio. “In this war on poverty, poverty’s winning.”

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Critics of the Republican ticket say they don’t talk enough about the poor and want to destroy entitlement programs, critiques that play into the narrative furthered by President Obama’s campaign that Romney is a rich corporate raider.

Ryan, in his speech, rejected the idea that Mitt Romney does not have a plan to save entitlement programs, specifically naming Medicare and food stamps. He also directly confronted Obama’s criticism that he and Romney care more about millionaires and billionaires than the middle class or poor people, calling it a “straw man” argument to say that their position is “every man should fend for themselves.”

“The truth is, Mitt Romney and I believe in upward mobility,” he said. “There has to be a balance, allowing government to act for the private good while leaving private groups free to do the work that only they can do. There’s a vast common ground between the government and the individual.”

But over the past five decades, government has spent more money on a “centralized, top-down approach” that by the 1970s created a “debilitating culture of dependency,” Ryan said.

He also cited what he called recent examples of the government getting in the way of private freedoms, naming the national debt and the Obama administration’s mandate to require most employers to cover contraception as part of employees’ health insurance.

“When Mitt Romney is president, this mandate will be gone,” Ryan pledged, prompting a standing ovation.

He also praised the welfare reforms passed under former President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, but said the same approach has not been taken to other government programs.

“We’re still trying to measure compassion by how much government spends, not by how many people we help escape from poverty,” he said. “Today, 46 million people are living in poverty. That’s one in six Americans. It’s the highest poverty rate in a generation.”

He said a Romney administration would apply the pattern set by the welfare reform to preserving and strengthening other “safety net” programs, specifically by handing more power back to the states to tailor them to the needs of their residents.

“We will not defer to the Washington-knows-best crowd,” he promised. He described the work of several businessmen and private charities, saying he and Romney would defer to their example as they shaped public policy.

He promised education reforms that would address, among other things, the low graduation rates of inner city schools. He said Romney’s solution is to offer more “choice” in education to parents, “no matter where they live.”

"African American and Hispanic children are sent into mediocre schools and expected to succeed," he said. "That's unacceptable. We owe every child a chance to succeed in life in this country."

Jimmy Kemp, son of former Republican congressman and football player James Kemp, introduced Ryan at the event. The late Kemp was also the GOP vice presidential nominee in 1996. Ryan worked as an aide to Kemp prior to running for office himself.

Ryan, in his speech, called Kemp his mentor, and said that he has thought of him often since becoming the GOP vice presidential nominee.