"If Paul Ryan Knew What Poverty Was, He Wouldn't Be Giving This Speech"

| Thu Apr. 26, 2012 2:20 PM EDT
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House budget committee, knew some Catholics were spoiling for a fight with him Thursday when he was scheduled to speak at Georgetown University, a Catholic institution. Nearly 90 faculty members and administrators sent him a letter expressing concerns with his recent comments that his proposed budget, which includes massive spending cuts to programs for the poor but not a single tax increase, was inspired by his Catholic faith.

"I am afraid that Chairman Ryan's budget reflects the values of his favorite philosopher Ayn Rand rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ," said Father Thomas Reese, a fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown, in a press release Tuesday. "Survival of the fittest may be okay for Social Darwinists but not for followers of the gospel of compassion and love."

The complaints seemed to resonate with Ryan. On Thursday, he went on record denouncing Ayn Rand, who believed altruism is evil, brushing off his well-documented obsession with her as a teenage romance. Ryan told the National Review's Robert Costa: "I reject her philosophy. It's an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person's view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas. Don't give me Ayn Rand."

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During his speech, though, Ryan didn't back away from any of his budget proposals, which would dramatically reduce the number of people on food stamps and radically scale back Medicaid, the health care program for the poor. Instead, he championed such proposals as a means to liberate the poor. Calling the budget "hardly draconian," he said:

Our budget builds on the historic welfare reforms of the 1990s—reforms proven to work. We aim to empower state and local governments, communities, and individuals—those closest to the problem. And we aim to promote opportunity and upward mobility by strengthening job training programs, to help those who have fallen on hard times. My mentor, Jack Kemp, used to say, "You can't help America's poor by making America poor."

During the Q&A session that followed, where Ryan fielded questions submitted by students, he insisted that welfare reform had brought down child poverty rates. The claim is false, especially in Ryan's home state. According to the most recent data, the child poverty rate in Wisconsin jumped 42 percent between 2000 and 2010. The suffering would have been more significant but for the large increases in federal food assistance that Ryan wants to scale back. Welfare reform is more likely a contributing factor to child poverty, not a solution to it, making it a dubious model for for combating poverty "at its roots," as Ryan said he wants to do.

That's why Catholics at Georgetown, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and other Catholic organizations were so outraged when Ryan told a Christian TV show earlier this month that his budget was wholly in keeping with Catholic teachings and practically endorsed by the Pope himself, whom Ryan told the students Thursday was down on debt. His speech was protested on Thursday by Catholics who are in the trenches with the people who would suffer from his budget proposal. They were folks who work at soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and other social-service agencies run by Catholic organizations, who see first hand the complexities and needs of the poor. 

On hand to emphasize that point after the speech was the "GOP Je$us," who read from the "Me-Attitudes," to parody Ryan's so-called Catholic-inspired budget.

GOP Je$us protests speech by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.): Stephanie MencimerGOP Je$us protests speech by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Stephanie Mencimer He proclaimed:

Blessed are the rich, the reign of this world is ours. The rich rule the world, and the rest suffer and die, often in misery. Do not let this be you my brothers! Easier to use your riches to genetically engineer very small camels that can fit through the needle's eye…

Blessed are the violent and the invincible, the proud and the powerful, the domineering and oppressive. We can have it all! And let our status of power be the proof that we are deserving of the fruits of the labor of the middle class and poor…

Blessed are those who show no mercy. No mercy to the poor, to women and children, the elderly and the homeless, victims, outcasts, enemies, refugees, the hungry, the undocumented, the unborn, those on death row, those who are different, those we don’t like. And of course, those who happen to be in the way of what we want…

Blessed are the warmakers. Yea I say unto you, if we were not making war, we could not be said to be making much. That is what China is for! Lo, the Lord looked at China and said "Let it be the worlds factory floor," and it was good…

James Salt, the executive director of Catholics United, which organized one of the protests outside the hall where Ryan was speaking, told gathered reporters that his group was there because "the dignity of the poor should be at the forefront of our minds." Taking a dig at Ryan's attempts to cast his budget as a boon for poor people, Salt noted, "If Paul Ryan knew what poverty was, he wouldn't be giving this speech." 

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