Paul Ryan says his poverty focus is not about saving money

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Frank Schultz
Monday, March 10, 2014

Rep. Paul Ryan said his recent focus on poverty is not about cutting spending.

“That's the typical knee-jerk reaction you get from the other side, or from the Left,” Ryan said in a Gazette telephone interview Monday.

Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin's 1st District, recently released a paper looking at the many federal poverty programs, saying the paper could be a starting point for debate.

“The goal is to permanently reduce poverty. We're not doing that,” Ryan said. "So let's look at what we're doing well and do more of it, and let's look at what we're not doing well and fix it. That's what this is all about. This is not a budget-cutting exercise.”

Anti-poverty efforts should be evaluated based on outcomes, Ryan said, not inputs: “We cannot measure our success based on how much money we throw at programs. We should measure success on how many people we help get out of poverty permanently. And if we're not successful on that front, then let's explore new ideas.”

Ryan said he spoke to officials at Racine Catholic Charities and the Kenosha Boys & Girls Club on Monday. They were the latest in a series of discussions around the country in which he has sought answers to poverty, he said.

Ryan plans to release his ideas for combating poverty early this summer.

“I think those who want to protect the status quo want to protect an indefensible system. And those of us who want to change the status quo have got to be used to these kinds of criticisms.”

Asked about criticisms that he works to provide cheap labor for business and should not oppose an increase in the minimum wage, Ryan dismissed that as politics.

“The cheapest political trick in the book is to call someone a name and try and create a caricature of them. Life is much more complicated than that,” he said.

Constituents who want to hear more from Ryan can attend listening sessions he plans in the district next week.

On other topics in the 10-minute interview, Ryan said:

-- He would debate his Democratic opponent before the November elections, something he didn't do in 2012. Ryan pleaded special circumstances that year: He was running for vice president at the same time.

Two candidates are running for the Democrats' nomination: Rob Zerban of Kenosha, making his second attempt, and Amar Kaleka of Oak Creek.

-- He still believes Congress should pass immigration reform in a series of proposals, not an all-encompassing bill, but “we don't have the votes right now. …

“The longer we delay, the worse these (immigration) problems become,” Ryan said, but congressional forces on the Right and the Left are holding things up.

“Right now, we're working hard to find where that consensus lies,” he said.

Ryan called for a workable system that is good for the economy, immigrants and “citizens concerned about the rule of law and national security.”

-- House bills are getting no action in the Democratic-controlled Senate, including a job-training bill to address a skills gap.

Senate leaders have similarly complained about their bills being stalled in the Republican-controlled House.

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