Nearly two years ago, not long after his failed bid for national office, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) appeared on msnbc and told Joe Scarborough, "I'm focused on poverty these days."
It seemed like an odd thing to say. Ryan was, and is, perhaps best known for his far-right budget plan that cuts taxes for the wealthy by hundreds of billions of dollars, while slashing investments in programs that benefit working families. For the Republican congressman to say he's "focused on poverty" was belied by his actual policy agenda, which is brutal towards those actually in poverty.
But Ryan's comment on msnbc wasn't an offhand remark. The Wisconsin lawmaker quickly started convincing the Beltway media that he's now committed to "fighting poverty
," en route to inner-city tours
, multiple speeches
, and a sloppy report
on the efficacy of domestic anti-poverty programs.
At a certain level, all of this may seem at least a little encouraging. Too often, much of the GOP is simply inclined to ignore poverty as a chronic national issue, so the congressman's interest is welcome. But as Dylan Matthews explained
yesterday, more discouraging is the fact that after years of work on the issue, Paul Ryan still "keeps getting the basic facts wrong."
It doesn't help that the first policy statement he makes is an out-and-out lie: "After a 50-year war on poverty and trillions of dollars spent, we still have the same poverty rates." This sentence suggests that either Paul Ryan has absolutely no clue how poverty rates work, or he does know and is actively deceiving viewers. First of all, the specific claim in question isn't even technically accurate.... But even that dramatically understates the progress that has been made. The official poverty rate is a travesty of a statistic, and using it at all in this context is irresponsible. It's literally based on food prices in 1955. But more relevantly for these purposes, it excludes the very anti-poverty programs Ryan is talking about.
The full Vox takedown
is worth reading in detail, but stepping back, what does it tell us about the seriousness of Ryan's approach to policymaking when he focuses on poverty for years and still doesn't seem to know what he's talking about?
Making matters slightly worse for the far-right lawmaker, Greg Sargent flagged
some interesting new data on the subject.
[A] new study being released today finds that the federal safety net may actually be doing more to alleviate poverty than previously thought. The study, from the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, uses a new statistical technique to measure the impact of federal programs on the poverty rate, correcting for what it says are defects in previous accounting methods. The study's top-line finding is that in 2012, federal safety net programs cut the poverty rate by more than half, reducing it from 29.1 percent to 13.8 percent and lifting 48 million people above the poverty line, including 12 million children.
Remember, as far as Paul Ryan is concerned, these factual details simply don't, or at least shouldn't, exist.
If the House Ways & Means Committee chairman is "focused on poverty these days," it seems he has quite a bit of reading up to do.