Policy

House Republicans Push 'Welfare to Work' Poverty Platform

Democrats pan the first plank in the GOP's agenda

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., left, and Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, right, announced House Republicans' poverty platform in Washington at the House of Help City of Hope, run by Bishop Shirley Holloway, center. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Paul D. Ryan's promise to deliver a "new approach to fighting poverty" was met with widespread skepticism Tuesday from Democrats, who said Republicans are simply recycling proposals that have failed to gain traction.  

Ryan, R-Wis., made his way across the Anacostia River to release a House Republican poverty platform that calls for, among other things, giving welfare benefits only to people who are working or preparing to get a job. The 35-page policy paper is the first installment of the GOP's six-plank agenda, called A Better Way .   

[ Ryan Announces Plan for Rolling Out House Agenda ]  

The document outlines ideas for expanding the incentives offered to help supplement earnings for low-income workers once they've moved from welfare to work. It also includes proposals to prevent people from falling into poverty and to help lift them out of it. Among those are plans for strengthening programs for early childhood development, at-risk youth and job training.  

"What you are getting here is a new approach at fighting poverty, at reigniting this beautiful concept of upward mobility, at going at root causes of poverty," Ryan said at a news conference at the House of Help, City of Hope , a residential treatment facility in Southeast D.C.  

Democrats quickly panned the poverty platform as inadequate to deal with the challenges that low-income families face.  

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer said when it comes to the House GOP, "Essentially the basic premise is: you're on your own."  

The Maryland Democrat spoke at an event the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAP) held around the same time as the House Republican event.   

CAP offered up an alternative, progressive agenda that called for removing barriers to opportunity in very different ways.  

"Elevated poverty levels and stagnant incomes are not inevitable," the report states. "Instead, they are the direct result of deliberate policy choices that put income into the hands of the most affluent Americans but leave millions more with barely enough to get by."  

Hoyer predicted Ryan would never bring legislation to implement his agenda to the floor. "The reality behind it will be an empty promise of trying to bring people out of poverty," he said.   

But Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said the various committees involved in developing the agenda have already begun moving legislation and that floor action could occur this year.   

"It’s an uncertain political environment," said Brady, a member of the task force that produced the report, "but the House, we can take these steps already."  

[ Ryan: House GOP Will Build 2016 Agenda Together ]  

"There's no hope for change unless this government changes, unless we do things differently," Brady added. "We're going to reward and we're going to expect work from those who receive government benefits because nowhere do you learn skills sooner, nowhere do you escape poverty faster than with a full-time job."  

Republicans argue that the cost of welfare programs have only increased while the poverty rate has remained virtually unchanged.  

The federal government has more than 80 programs that offer assistance to low-income individuals, helping them obtain food, housing, health care, education and job training.  The costs of these programs have risen dramatically in the past decade from $369 billion in 2006 to a projected $744 billion in 2016, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).  

The poverty policy paper is the first of the six-part agenda . A rollout of the national security plank is scheduled for Thursday and the remaining four planks – focused on taxes, health care, regulations and the constitution – will be released in the next few weeks.  

"We wanted to start with poverty because we think this sums up our case," Ryan said. We want to build a confident America where no one is stuck, where no one settles and where everyone can rise."  

[ Ryan Talks Poverty at CPAC ]  

GOP leadership aides said the agenda excludes policy areas that divide the party, such as immigration and trade. A Better Way focuses on ideas that can unite the party and represents areas Ryan has in common with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, the aides said.  

Ryan is confident that with Trump as president, House Republicans could pass these plans and have them signed into law, the aides said.    

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.  Contact McPherson at lindseymcpherson@rollcall.com and follow her on Twitter @lindsemcpherson.  Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.