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Our views: Ryan's plan on poverty worth a look

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July 30, 2014

Two points are critical in putting Rep. Paul Ryan's new poverty plan into perspective.

One, Ryan says this is the start of a conversation, not a final proposal.

Two, the Janesville Republican emphasizes that the plan is not intended to reduce the money spent on helping the poor.

Those acknowledgements should be enough to get both sides of the political aisle at least talking about what can be done to help the less fortunate.

Whatever Ryan's motive, this is a different take for him on addressing poverty. In the past, the powerful congressman, who serves as chairman of the House Budget Committee, has consistently proposed changes in the support network that were designed to streamline programs and cut costs.

Partly because of that, many Democrats are skeptical of Ryan's sincerity. Ryan, for his part, is asking for a dialogue and an opportunity to work with progressives in an effort to find common ground on this historically troublesome and divisive issue.

Ryan unveiled the plan last week after more than a year of budget hearings and personal visits to urban communities around the country. As summarized by Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the plan embraces some ideas that Democrats support, such as expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and reforming mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines to reduce the prison population.

It also includes approaches backed by Republicans, such as block grants to states that would allow them to experiment with funding and programs and tailor initiatives to their specific needs.

In particular, the changes to the Earned Income Credit should garner broad support.

The proposal would expand the credit beyond families with children to more childless workers. Ryan also would lower the eligibility age from 25 to 21. The idea is to remove disincentives to work and to draw more young people into the workforce.

Ryan also proposes a review of sentencing guidelines with the intent of reducing incarceration among low-risk and nonviolent offenders. As the Journal Sentinel's Gilbert explained, the plan would give federal judges more flexibility in sentencing drug offenders, expanding rehabilitation programs and allowing some prisoners who participate in those programs to cut time off their sentences.

The congressman will have a harder time selling his block grant plan, which many Democrats will question and oppose out of the belief that many states can't be trusted to make good decisions about helping their poor and will find ways to cut spending on programs. The key, though, is that these would be experiments that would be monitored, revised and even scrapped if they don't prove effective.

Is all of this about Ryan rebranding himself on the issue in preparation for a presidential run in 2016? That could be part of it, but we take him at his word that he genuinely wants to address poverty in America in a fair and long-term manner.

We hope others who don't see eye to eye with Ryan on many other issues at least give this proposal the consideration it deserves.



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