Speaker Paul Ryan’s has been rolling out an ambitious legislative agenda, titled “A Better Way,” designed to show that the Republican Party – irrespective of Donald Trump – is brimming with exciting policy ideas and is ready to govern. But The Atlantic finds it akin to a tree falling in an empty forest:
…thus far, Ryan’s beloved agenda—the one his wonkish heart has been dreaming of and laboring over and counting on to define his speakership—has been something of a PR bust, yet another sad casualty of this election cycle’s Trumpsanity.
But chalking up the bust to Trump’s hogging of the media oxygen is too simple. Ryan could have swiped a piece of spotlight if he had anything interesting to offer.
Instead, Ryan served up cold conservative porridge. Nothing that showed any lessons learned from the failed conservatism of the past. Nothing that went beyond hack anti-Obama talking points.
I noted last week that Ryan’s environmental agenda was knee-jerk, anti-regulation rehash that systematically dismissed the threat of climate change.
His poverty package suffers from the same ideological blindness. Ryan desperately wants the Republican Party to shed its reputation as uncaring for the poor, yet is unable to take any bold steps to prove it.
Notably, The Washington Post’s right-leaning editorial board was palpably disappointed:
“…he [once] proposed pumping up the earned-income tax credit … In the House GOP’s latest document, however, the EITC is hardly mentioned. Instead, the report includes a line about “increasing” it — an unhelpfully vague suggestion — and goes on to dwell on EITC fraud. The outline spends much more time on bromides such as working with nonprofit groups and giving states more flexibility. These reflect Republican federalist principles, but with a fatal lack of specificity. The program offers no real sense of how states might work through a series of thorny issues in practice…
And The New York Times called him out for basing the document on the faulty premise that decades of government aid hasn’t helped the poor:
…that premise is substantially undercut by separate studies from economists at Columbia University and the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service that show reductions of 40 percent or more in families living in poverty.
Indeed, experts on social welfare policy say, these substantial gains in reducing poverty are not visible precisely because Republicans succeeded over the last decades in shifting government aid programs from direct cash assistance to benefits like food stamps and housing vouchers that are not counted in annual statistics.
If Ryan wanted to steal some of Trump’s thunder, he could follow Trump’s lead and be less handcuffed to ideological orthodoxy. And he could do Trump one better and be more moored to the facts.
But Ryan is incapable of such audacity, because his own rigid ideology has been a chief contributor to his party’s intellectual bankruptcy, which in turn, made it susceptible to takeover by an authoritarian demagogue. Until Ryan and the rest of his party grasp that they need to break free from the failures of conservatism that ruined the George W. Bush presidency, and chart a new course, they will continue to be ignored.