The New (And Improved?) Paul Ryan

In his first take on Paul Ryan’s anti-poverty plan, Douthat welcomes the  Wisconsin congressman into the fold of the reform conservatives:

Taken as a whole, this document basically eliminates the daylight that existed between “Ryanism” and reform conservatism on safety net reform. As I discussed two weeks ago, the reformocon quasi-movement has tended to view some of the projected discretionary cuts in the Ryan budgets as implausible and/or unnecessary, and generally prefers a revenue-neutral overhaul of the safety net that spends more on some programs (an E.I.T.C. expansion or wage subsidy, most notably) while cutting others and devolving others to the states. That’s basically what Ryan is proposing here, in a more detailed form than we’ve seen from any other figure of his stature to date, which means that there is now pretty clear unity (on this set of issues) between the House Budget chairman and the wonks who have praised him on entitlement reform, health care reform and other issues in the past.

Yuval Levin also situates the plan within the reformocon agenda and argues that it speaks to the health of the GOP. “Indeed,” he remarks, “it is becoming harder all the time to sustain the proposition that congressional Republicans aren’t engaged in the country’s major policy debates”:

In just the past year, we have seen proposed two major tax reforms, several pro-market Obamacare alternatives, several major safety-net-reform proposals, a higher-ed-reform proposal, several fundamental federal transportation-funding reforms, and several sentencing-reform proposals, among others. Some Republicans have also begun at last to take on corporate welfare, to rethink financial regulation, and to propose piecemeal immigration reforms that would address key problems discretely rather than in an all-or-nothing package that looks worse than nothing. Some of these proposals have been offered as bills, some have been more like policy papers, and of course none has gotten anywhere near the president’s desk. But has there been another twelve-month period when the minority party in Washington has put forward so many elements of a comprehensive domestic agenda?

The Bloomberg View editors give Ryan a pat on the back for rethinking his views on poverty and the safety net:

With this proposal, Ryan has returned to the fold of the late Representative Jack Kemp of New York, his mentor, who wanted to cut spending but also reduce poverty. Like Kemp, Ryan wants the government to help the poor yet still hold them accountable. There is and always will be a tension inherent in government programs for the poor — between providing assistance and discouraging dependence. For too long, the Republican Party has paid too much attention to the latter at the expense of the former. One promise of Ryan’s plan is that it may shift his party’s focus.

Vinik is a bit suspicious of this sudden transformation, asking: “Who is the real Paul Ryan?”:

Is he a deficit hawk who panders to the far right? Or is he a pragmatic policymaker that wants to increase antipoverty spending? Ryan’s supporters say that he’s the latter and that his budget wasn’t his exact position, but represented the opinion of the entire House Republican caucus. … In effect, then, Ryan is saying, “Ignore my past four budgets and the radical spending cuts in them. That was a show for the far right. I actually want to increase spending on anti-poverty programs.” Of course, Ryan won’t actually admit that, because it would infuriate the far right. But make no mistake, that’s what Ryan was implicitly saying Thursday.

But Ezra Klein urges Democrats to play ball with the rebooted Ryan:

Ryan has a quality most reformers don’t: he is exceptionally good at building consensus within the Republican Party. And that’s what makes his poverty plan so important: Ryan is ratifying a shift in the GOP’s focus away from the kind of policies contained in his budgets and towards the kind of policies contained in his poverty plan (and that have also been offered by Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Mike Lee, and others). This is a conversation that should, in theory, offer much more opportunity for common ground with Democrats.

This plan, for instance, marks an important point of agreement between Ryan and the Obama administration: their proposals for expanding the EITC are almost identical — where, previously, the Obama administration wanted to expand the EITC and Ryan wanted to cut it. Their disagreement now is about how to pay for expanding the EITC. That’s a gap that should, under normal political circumstances, be bridgeable.

“It’s important to know,” Neil Irwin stresses, “that none of this is remotely a repudiation of conservative ideals”:

The E.I.T.C. is a version of a “negative income tax,” first imagined by the libertarian economist Milton Friedman as a way of helping the working poor with fewer downsides than conventional welfare programs, like large administrative expense and the creation of incentives for people not to work. Mr. Ryan even proposes paying for the increase in the tax credit by eliminating programs he calls ineffective, including the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program and the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. But a funny thing has happened over the past generation. What was once a conservative idea, created in the Gerald Ford administration and expanded by President Reagan and both Presidents Bush, is now more controversial on the right.

(Correction: this post originally referred to Ryan as a Senator. Not yet.)