Rep. Paul Ryan: GOP Must Learn From Mistakes in War on Poverty

Tuesday, 19 Aug 2014 05:46 PM

By Greg Richter

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Republicans often aren't taken seriously in their effort to alleviate poverty, Rep. Paul Ryan admits, and he suggested they learn from past mistakes to get their message out.

Ryan appeared Tuesday on CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper," in a discussion about the role poverty plays in the Ferguson, Missouri, protests.

Ryan wouldn't discuss the specifics of Ferguson, where daily and nightly protests have continued since the Aug. 9 police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The unarmed black teenager was shot by a white police officer. Conflicting accounts say either that Brown was putting his hands up in surrender or that he was charging at the officer when he was shot.

The protests sparked by Brown's death have focused on race relations and poverty in the St. Louis suburb. Seventy percent of the Ferguson's residents are black, but only three of its 53 police officers are.

Ryan told Tapper it would be "disrespectful" to give the impression he is trying to "graft my policy preferences or political agenda onto this situation," and declined to be specific about that case, but said he understood why residents of Ferguson and others feel the way they sometimes do about Republican policies.

"We have a long ways to go to cure and fight systemic poverty in America," the Wisconsin Republican said. Policymakers need to have a fresh look at the War on Poverty since it is 50 years old and the United States currently has the highest poverty rates in a generation, he said.

Ryan said there should be a focus on an outcome-based approach instead of the traditional input-based approach. Currently, the system looks at how many people are on programs rather than how many are being freed from poverty, he said.

"Are we attacking the root cause of poverty to break the cycle of poverty, or are we simply treating symptoms?" he asked.

Ryan's "Opportunity Grants" would consolidate up to 11 welfare-based programs into flexible grants for the states to allow them to customize for a family's needs, he said.

"One woman fighting poverty may need food stamps or may need job training. One man in poverty may need addiction counseling and jobs training," he said.

Ryan said he also wants to break up the "welfare agency monopolies" that are not performing as needed.

Ryan admitted he has stumbled in his own messaging in the past, and attempts to correct himself in his new book "The Way Forward."

In the past he used the term "makers and takers" to describe Americans, but now says that was "convenient shorthand" that applied too broad a brush. He also was "misdiagnosing" the problem of people who are struggling in poverty, he said.

The real problem, he told Tapper, is government policies that don't help people achieve their goals.

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