When evaluating proposals from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), it's tempting to grade on a curve. After all, Ryan has unveiled some pretty offensive blueprints over the years -- most of them needlessly extreme, some of them based on data that just didn't add up -- and if we compare today's anti-poverty plan to those recent offerings, this new package isn't the worst thing the Wisconsin Republican has presented to the public.
But that doesn't make it a good plan.
In the interest of magnanimity, let's acknowledge some of the good stuff. Ryan bucks his party, for example, by endorsing expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), an issue on which Democrats can and should welcome the opportunity to work with him. He's also prepared to embrace sentencing reforms, which is heartening, and his recommendations on occupational licensing aren't bad, either.
Perhaps most importantly, Ryan doesn't include any of the deep spending cuts to the safety net that have helped define the congressman's far-right budget proposals.
With this in mind, there's plenty not to like in this conservative approach to
combating poverty, including the block-grant boilerplate and the anti-environmental regularly "reforms," but it's only fair to acknowledge that this isn't just the same old Paul Ryan plan. It's qualitatively different, and in some respects, better. It's not good by any stretch, but it's a small step in a sensible direction.
But there's one part of Ryan's proposal that I can't quite wrap my head around. From his speech:
"[W]hat we need to do is coordinate assistance to families in need. Get the public and private sector working together. That's how we can smooth the transition from assistance to success. The fact is, each person's needs fit into a coherent whole: a career. And each person fits into a coherent whole: a community. So if the public and private sector work together, we can offer a more personalized, customized form of aid -- one that recognizes both a person's needs and their strengths -- both the problem and the potential."
As part of this "customized form of aid," Washington would give money to states, which states would then be expected to help low-income Americans through "certified service providers." The "providers," in Ryan's vision, would include non-profits, for-profits, or community groups, each of which would "provide personalized aid through case management."
If you're thinking that's a little weird, wait, it's probably worse than you think.