Afer sparking a flurry of controversy in March with remarks that suggested that poverty in America’s inner-cities was due in part to people who lacked an appreciation for work, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, has made a point of conveying interest and compassion for the country’s poor, particularly in minority communities.
As part of that effort, Ryan met recently with the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss possible areas of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats on addressing poverty.
U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, a member of the CBC, whose members are currently all Democrats, said the meeting yielded some constructive dialogue and highlighted a number of sharp ideological disagreements between the two sides.
“There were no expectations that there was going to be some great agreement,” she told the Cap Times Friday. “That wasn’t the purpose of the meeting.”
She was happy to report that Ryan said he would look carefully at a broad anti-poverty proposal put forward by the caucus, known as the “10-20-30 Program,” which seeks to devote 10 percent of federal anti-poverty spending to counties in which at least 20 percent of the population has lived in poverty for at least 30 years.
“We’re agreeing that we need a much more targeted approach to poverty,” Moore said. “He promised to study it and have a real solid conversation about that item in particular.”
Moore is hopeful that the proposal will appeal to Republicans, she said, because an examination of the 474 targeted counties shows that about half of them are located in Republican districts.
But while Moore acknowledged that such a case might get some attention from what she termed “traditional Republicans,” including Ryan, she said GOP leaders are stymied by dozens of tea party representatives who have no interest in developing federal programs to fight poverty.
“Everyday they’ve got 45 to 60 Republicans who don’t want to do anything for poor people,” she said. “They’re there to basically get rid of entitlement programs.”
Caucus members and Ryan had to agree to disagree on a number of economic issues, she said.
“Basically we had an economics debate that we think will rage on,” she said. “We don’t think we made any inroads there.”
For the CBC, she said, “Inequality and trickle-down (economics) is really a non-starter.”
As for Ryan: “He believes that at some point, one more tax break and the trickle is going to start at some point.”
If anything, said Moore, CBC members sought to push back on “the notion that he’s a wonk and that he understands economics and we don’t.”
While Ryan subscribes to supply-side economic theory, focused on putting capital in the hands of investors and businesses, Moore believes the key is creating demand for business by getting money to people most likely to spend it immediately: The poor and middle-class.
While Ryan has apologized for his controversial remarks, calling them “inarticulate,” Moore said the narrative that the poor are lazy and unwilling to work continues to be a dominant theme of Capitol Hill debate.
The most obvious example is the continual effort to cut spending on food stamps, she said.
“The average human being anywhere on the planet has empathy for hungry people,” she said. “How do you vilify those people on food stamps? You promote the notion that these are lazy, able-bodied people who don’t want to work.”
“No matter how many stats we show that 80 percent of the people who get foodstamps are elderly, disabled or children, they keep pushing this narrative,” she said.