Ryan Forum Will Preview Poverty Agenda

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin is opening the door to new initiatives aimed at helping low-income families as he prepares to discuss poverty in a forum showcasing GOP presidential candidates in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday.

The top Republican plans to make the case – with seven GOP presidential aspirants – for a conservative approach to shrinking poverty’s footprint. Both parties have shown a willingness to develop bipartisan initiatives to help 46.7 million Americans living in poverty, even as they vie on the campaign trial over competing economic plans and ideologies.

Robert Doar, a fellow in poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute, predicted participants would “show the GOP has more to offer than tax cuts and greater growth.”  AEI is one of the sponsors of the gathering.

Ryan plans to join Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., to moderate three panels of presidential candidates and to outline his own thoughts in a speech and panel discussion. The event sponsored by the Jack Kemp Foundation could serve as a bellwether of prospects for items that could move as stand-alone bills or as add-ons to broader legislation such as a possible international tax overhaul.

Scott said in an interview there would be openings to move modest proposals aimed at promoting private and charter schools and helping the jobless, including his own plan (S 574) to create a $1,000 business tax credit for employers that hire an apprentice younger than 25 years old.

“We hope that we will see more traction for apprenticeship programs and school choice opportunities,” Scott said.  He said other bigger items such as proposals to broaden eligibility for the earned income tax credit for childless workers likely would be an issue “in 2017 for the next Congress.”

Robert Greenstein, president of the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, said he hoped Ryan and President Barack Obama could work out differences on proposals to broaden eligibility for the earned income tax credit, or EITC, to low-income workers without minor children but called it "rather doubtful because it's hard to see the vehicle on which it would move." 

Doar said Ryan likely would focus on ensuring that federal programs do not serve as “poverty traps.”

“He’s open to ideas that can make programs work more effectively and target assistance where people have the greatest need,” Doar said.

Ryan demonstrated his willingness to give ground in the recent $680 billion permanent tax break accord (PL 114-113), which included long-term extensions of the expanded EITC and the additional child tax credit.

Despite the recent tax deal, the two parties disagree over the best way to reduce the nation’s 14.8 percent poverty rate. While Republicans argue for tax cuts and for streamlining aid programs, Democrats advocate worker incentives and raising the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Democratic Goals

Democrats are looking for ways to shoehorn their own priorities into the floor agenda.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., said he and other Democrats planned to work with Ryan on efforts to target funding in a range of federal programs to more than 400 rural counties that have the highest persistent poverty rates. For example, one proposal by Assistant Minority Leader James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., would designate a 10-percent share of funds for rural development and other programs to counties with poverty rates of 20 percent or more for the last 30 years.

Aid targeting could face hurdles with conservatives that seek deeper cuts. But Butterfield predicted wide support for putting more existing funds “into poverty counties.” He said he believed “Ryan is ready to deal in a bipartisan way on issues that are important to low-income families.”

Butterfield said he and other Democrats would oppose any effort by conservatives to shrink aid programs such as temporary assistance for needy families, known as TANF. “We would never tolerate any decrease in TANF. We want an increase in TANF funding,” Butterfield said.

And for now, both parties disagree over a GOP push to reshape TANF to ensure enforcement of work requirements while providing more flexibility for beneficiaries to get job training and education. Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., said he had handed off responsibility for TANF legislation to Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., as part of the reshuffling of subcommittee gavels, when Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, replaced Ryan as the top tax writer.

Topics: