In his first inaugural address, Ronald Reagan famously declared: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Over the next 2 1/2 decades, Republicans and conservatives tended to drop the “in the present crisis” part. They’ve treated government as an obstacle to human welfare always and everywhere, instead of a tool that can sometimes be used to improve things. Ryan’s plan is the first glimmer of a big awakening on the right — the realization that the crisis we now face isn’t the same as the one we faced in 1981. Perhaps a decade-and-a-half of falling real incomes and falling mobility has finally cracked the hard shell of triumphal post-Reaganism. If so, the fear that the conservative movement would degenerate forever into obstructionist self-parody — that the Tea Party is the future — has proven unfounded.
Think about it: In 2014, the Republican Party’s main idea man — who just two years ago ran for vice president on the same ticket as a man who called the poorer half of America “takers” — is now proposing to use a government bureaucracy to send social workers to help poor people make more money, while simultaneously mailing them government checks. That is a big, big deal. Compared with that epochal shift, the particulars of Ryan’s plan hardly matter.
Michael Brendan Dougherty agrees:
Ryan’s plan — along with Dave Camp’s tax plan and proposals by Sens. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee on a range of issues — reveals that at least some in the GOP are moving beyond the party’s “You didn’t build that,” anti-47 percent posturing. These proposals constitute green shoots in what had been a policy-thinking desert for the Obama-era right. If I had my druthers, some enterprising senator would pick up a few of Jon Huntsman’s proposed financial reforms.
Democrats may accuse all these proposals of being a mere performance put on for the benefit of grandee policy commentators. But what exactly is the policy agenda Hillary Clinton wants to enact? So far, all we have are gloomy reports about her difficulty balancing how she talks about the go-go 1990s. The GOP has a long way to go, but the latest Ryan proposal is a sign that at least it’s moving.
Jonathan Bernstein hopes Congress might at least start having a substantive conversation about some of these issues:
Policy experts analyzing Ryan’s anti-poverty agenda seem to think that there’s a viable policy here. Given that Ryan remains in some ways the heart of the House Republican conference, it’s good news if Ryan’s contradictions include at least one policy containing genuine substance. Of course, liberals aren’t going to endorse much of that substance. But a debate (or, even better, a legislative clash) between substantive liberal and substantive conservative policy proposals has the potential to produce something worthwhile. In any case, it would be a vast improvement over the symbolic posturing that consumes most of Congress’ time.
Could it all be, as Krugman says, a con? Sure. Ryan doesn’t enter this discussion with much credibility. Republican efforts to pass appropriations based on his budget proved to be a fiasco. But perhaps he’s earned some credibility with his new proposal. Meanwhile, those of us concerned with the effects of a broken Republican Party (as opposed to those who simply want to enact liberal policy) should encourage any positive signs we see.
But Chait remains skeptical:
The idea of letting states decide how to spend federal anti-poverty money has long divided the parties. Republicans assume that states will act in the best interest of their poorest citizens. Democrats assume the opposite. The trouble for Ryan is that, over the last few years, the United States has conducted a vast experiment that has proven his assumption wrong in the most horrifying way possible. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts allowed states to opt out of accepting Medicaid money to give health insurance to their poorest citizens. The money is, essentially, free. Washington would pay 90 percent of the cost of enrolling a person in Medicaid, and the remaining 10 percent would be made up, or more than made up, by the reduced cost of sick uninsured people showing up at the emergency room. In a display of almost fanatical indifference to the well-being of their most vulnerable citizens, nearly every Republican-controlled state government has eschewed this free money. Not only have state-level Republicans failed to display deep concern for the poor, they seem to actually enjoy subjecting them to intense physical and financial distress.
Meanwhile, McArdle pushes back on Jamelle Bouie and Jordan Weissmann’s claim that it’s a mistake to focus, as Ryan does, on long-term poverty when most Americans who fall into the safety net only do so temporarily:
[C]hronically poor people are more likely to require extra government benefits because they don’t have any of the assets that the temporarily poor bring with them from the middle class: reliable cars, houses, savings accounts, credit cards, friends and family who have spare cash to help out. The chronically poor will need more help, for longer, than folks who are struggling through a temporary job loss or divorce. Which means that, at the very least, they take up a disproportionate share of resources. It seems entirely possible — perhaps even likely — that the chronically poor still account for the majority of spending in many programs.
So, mathematically, I think the argument being made by Bouie and Weissman fails; it obviously makes a lot of sense to focus on the group that generates a disproportionate share of our entitlement spending. At the very least, we should consider the strong possibility that those struggling with chronic poverty might need very different kinds of help than those dealing with a temporary income problem — rather than suggesting, as Bouie does, that we should obviously focus on doing whatever is best for people having an acute poverty episode because they’re the majority.
Previous Dish on Paul Ryan’s plan here.