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Opinion

Paul Ryan's reality check on budget hysteria: GOP plan bolsters the safety net

Congressman Paul Ryan explains why the GOP's 2012 budget not only prevents a fiscal disaster, it strengthens America's safety net by directing more assistance to those who need it most.

By Paul Ryan / May 18, 2011



Washington

The ink wasn't even dry on the proposal when the wailing began. You might be excused for thinking the safety net was being dismantled. One Democratic senator wondered aloud whether the bill would prompt the widespread auctioning of abandoned children into slavery. A senior Democrat in the House of Representatives warned that within two years of enactment, the bill would "put 1.5 million to 2.5 million children into poverty."

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You remember those criticisms ... you heard them last month when the House of Representatives passed its fiscal year 2012 budget resolution, right?

Actually, they were all spoken 15 years ago, on the eve of the historic passage of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act. What happened after President Bill Clinton signed this landmark reform into law is well known: Welfare caseloads were cut in half against a backdrop of falling poverty rates. Child-poverty rates in particular fell by 1 percent every year in the five years following the enactment of the law. Even today, they remain below 1995 levels, even though the nation is just emerging from a severe recession.

Despite this unprecedented success, the defenders of the status quo in Washington are at it again, demonizing the House-passed budget in the same overwrought language they used to attack the bipartisan welfare reforms of the mid-1990s. "The Republican budget rips apart the safety net," is how the Budget Committee's ranking Democrat put it. President Obama accused us of wanting to leave children with disabilities to "fend for themselves."

False charges

This rhetoric is not just overheated – it is flat-out false. Our budget – "The Path to Prosperity"strengthens the safety net by directing more assistance to those who need it most. It provides the chronically unemployed with the incentives and tools they need to bounce back into self-sufficient lives. Most important, it prevents the kind of debt-fueled economic crisis that would hit the poor the hardest.

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The House-passed budget directs assistance to those in need by giving more power over federal antipoverty dollars to the states, to be directed by the governors and state lawmakers who are closest to the problem. In doing this, we are building upon the success of the welfare-reform law, which transformed that program into a block grant and gave states more control over its implementation. Washington has been fighting a "war on poverty" for nearly 50 years, yet it is no coincidence that the greatest strides in this effort were made when the federal government gave states the ability to better empower recipients of aid.

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