Paul Ryan Refuses to Talk About the Cost of His Anti-Poverty Plan

The GOP’s top budget wonk wants to focus on reforming the safety net, not paying for it.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) pretends to wash dishes at an Ohio soup kitchen in 2012.Mary Altaffer/AP


Last week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) released a detailed anti-poverty proposal in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. One of Ryan’s top prescriptions seems to have been influenced by his previous career as a personal trainer. He has proposed that recipients of federal benefits get the services of a personal case manager who would help them craft long-term plans, find “opportunities for growth,” and nudge them to make better choices that would lift them out of poverty and off the government dole.

I did a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation about how much this might cost. Just for people on food stamps, the federal government would need about 700,000 social workers, to the tune of around $30 billion. On Wednesday, Ryan appeared at a press briefing sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor and fielded questions about his plan, including several about the potential cost of his caseworker proposal.

But Ryan refused to say how much his life-coach-for-the-poor-plan would cost or how the government would fund it. He insisted that he wanted to talk only about “reforming” federal programs. Further explaining his reluctance to discuss money, Ryan, the House GOP’s number-one number-cruncher and the head of the House budget committee, said he didn’t want to talk about “statistics and numbers” because “that’s all we’ll talk about.” He said he didn’t want to distract from his laser-like focus on reforming the safety net.

It’s awfully difficult to discuss policy proposals without any sense of the pricetag, but Ryan claimed that his ideas for reform could be done in any budget context—a view that was greeted with some skepticism by the reporters present. Besides, he said, the caseworker idea isn’t something he’d “mandate,” simply something he recommended. So would this idea be in any legislation he might propose? Ryan was vague. Will he be introducing legislation embodying his anti-poverty plan in the fall? Maybe. Right now, he said, he just wants to keep talking.

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.