Helping Paul Ryan with arithmetic

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After House Republican leaders suffered an embarrassing setback last week, watching their members defeat their own farm bill, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) reflexively blamed the House Democratic minority for the failure. It didn’t matter that it was the House GOP that killed the bill; what mattered was an incoherent attempt at playing the blame game.

But that was last week, and the dust had not yet settled. After taking the weekend to think about it, clearly prominent Republican lawmakers will have come up with more sensible talking points, right? Wrong (thanks to my colleague Tricia McKinney for the tip).

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said Monday that Republicans in the House “can’t govern” if Democrats do not keep their word on how they plan to vote, laying blame for the defeat of last week’s farm bill at the feet of the minority party. “The Democrats promised 40 votes and they didn’t deliver the votes that they promised,” Ryan told msnbc’s “Morning Joe.” “Our leaders brought the bill to the floor based on the commitment that the Democrats from the agricultural districts made, and then during consideration on the floor, they reneged on the promise.”

Look, I realize Paul Ryan has a terrible memory, and he’s not especially good with numbers, but this is demonstrably ridiculous.

Indeed, it’s not at all complicated. There were 40 House Dems who intended to vote for the Republicans’ farm bill, but many balked after GOP lawmakers moved it further to the right, which hardly constitutes a broken promise. In the end, 24 of the 40 supported the legislation.

But here’s the key: if those 16 Democrats who balked had voted for the bill, it would have fallen short anyway. Ryan doesn’t even need a calculator: the bill had 195 votes. Add 16 to that, and you get 211 votes – seven short of what was needed.

Ryan’s party killed its own legislation, and this drive to blame Democrats isn’t just foolish, it’s also at odds with basic arithmetic: 195 + 16 = 211, not 218.

Are House Republican leaders so allergic to responsibility that they can’t own up to their own obvious failures?

In the same interview, Ryan claimed to be “focused on poverty.”

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) said Monday that he’s focused primarily on addressing poverty, a week after he complained that the farm bill did not include enough cuts to the food stamp program.

“Look, I’m a conservative who believes that our constitutional principles, founding principles are the key principles for the day and they’re the best if applied to our problems to solve problems,” Ryan said during an appearance on msnbc’s “Morning Joe.” “And we need to have that kind of temperament. This is why I’m focused on poverty these days, this is why I’m focused on – we’ve got the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty coming up next year. We don’t have much to show for it.”

First, as I hope Ryan understands, the investments of the Great Society were extremely effective at reducing poverty, but as Washington gave up on the efforts, the programs stopped having the desired effect. He made it sound as if we’ve been on a constant, 50-year struggle in which Washington’s commitment to anti-poverty programs has been consistent and fully funded. That’s plainly untrue.

Second, Ryan’s budget plan was brutal towards families in poverty, and just last week, he pushed for more cuts to food stamps. He’s “focused on poverty these days”? By this does the far-right Wisconsin congressman mean he’s focused on new ways of making struggling Americans suffer more?

Farm Bill and Paul Ryan

Helping Paul Ryan with arithmetic

Updated