By Bernie Becker - 07/24/14 01:31 PM EDT
House Democrats on Thursday dismissed Rep. Paul Ryan’s new anti-poverty push as nothing more than a “gussied up” version of the GOP budget wonk’s previous proposals.
“We have a case of total cognitive dissonance between the proposals today and the House Republican budget,” Van Hollen told reporters Thursday, after previously calling the differences “schizophrenia on steroids”
Ryan (R-Wis.), the House Budget Committee chairman, on Thursday cast his new initiative as a plan that wouldn’t roll back resources for the poor but would change how the money is delivered and spent. He said it would allow those who need services to escape the federal bureaucracy and get more personalized attention.
Rolling out his new plan, Ryan also insisted that his new grant plan, which would consolidate 11 separate federal anti-poverty programs into one funding stream for participating states, was not a block grant. House GOP budgets have repeatedly called for giving states block-grant spending for Medicaid.
Van Hollen, on the other hand, said that’s exactly what the plan was, and he was surprised Ryan would do little more than dress up his previous ideas. “It’s nothing more than a block grant gussied up with some bells and whistles,” the Maryland Democrat said.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) added that two-thirds of the cuts in Ryan’s latest budget would hit low- and middle-income families, and railed against the Wisconsin Republican’s idea to block-grant the Head Start program for early education.
The 11 programs that Ryan wants to consolidate would get hit with 20 percent cuts, Van Hollen noted, even as Ryan said he envisioned a deficit-neutral plan.
“I appreciate the rhetoric. Nice words,” said Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass). “But those words have to be followed up by action.”
Ryan’s plan is part of a larger effort by high-profile Republicans to broaden the GOP’s appeal following the 2012 elections, in which Ryan was the party’s vice presidential nominee.
The Democrats on Thursday’s conference call were quick to note that this year is the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s war against poverty, seeking to rebut any idea that the GOP was willing to go beyond rhetoric to help the poor.
For instance, Van Hollen noted that the House would vote Friday on a measure that would make more higher-income families eligible for the child tax credit, while declining to protect temporary expansions of the tax break for lower-income families that will expire in several years.
Democrats did say they were heartened on Thursday to see Ryan embrace an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and reforms to the criminal justice system.
But Van Hollen also said he saw little reason to think those proposals would go anywhere in the House the rest of the year. Republicans, he said, are “preoccupied with suing the president.”