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Paul Ryan: Impeachment talk is 'a ridiculous gambit'

Paul Ryan, talking up his antipoverty program at a Monitor breakfast, also says suing President Obama, rather than impeaching him, is the 'responsible' thing to do.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan speaks at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC, on Wednesday.

Republican Paul Ryan – former vice presidential running mate to Mitt Romney – said he stands by House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio on suing the president for executive overreach, which he called the “responsible” thing to do – rather than starting impeachment proceedings.

The impeachment talk from the White House and others is a “ridiculous gambit … to try and change the narrative, raise money, and turn out their base for an upcoming election that they feel is not going their way," he said at a Monitor breakfast Wednesday.

The president's actions don't warrant impeachment, he said, because they do "not rise to the high crimes and misdemeanor level” required by the Constitution. The House is expected to vote on a resolution to sue the president on Wednesday.

The congressman from Wisconsin, who also chairs the House Budget Committee, also severely criticized the US Export-Import bank, which helps finance US exports and whose charter expires on Sept. 30, unless Congress reauthorizes it. 

He said the Ex-Im bank practices “crony capitalism,” big government helping mostly a few large companies, such as Boeing. Far more constructive would be market reforms to make US businesses more competitive, such as corporate tax reform, he said.

A group of conservative Republicans would like to kill off the bank. Ryan didn’t say which way he would vote on its renewal.

But Ryan, who is also widely viewed as a GOP presidential contender in 2016, also delivered a concise Cliff Notes version of his much-discussed antipoverty program. He told reporters it’s time to break up the federal government’s “monopoly” on services for the poor and start measuring success by “outcomes” instead of how much federal money is poured into antipoverty programs.

Ryan rolled out his plan last week at the American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington. It drew surprising praise from some Democrats, including President Clinton’s former Labor secretary, Robert Reich.

It also drew criticism from the left and right – for handing federal support for the poor to "uncaring" states that won’t expand Medicaid, and by going overboard on the compassion by offering what one columnist called “life coaches” for those in poverty.

Ryan is one among several very conservative members of Congress who are offering antipoverty plans and who are also considered potential GOP candidates for president in 2016. Ryan said, though, that he would not make a decision about running for president until next year, after discussing it with his wife. 

The core of the congressman’s proposals for the poor would consolidate 11 federal government programs, including such things as food stamps, and hand that money to states to manage. States would have to target the funds to people in need (recipients would be means tested to make sure they qualify); link aid to work, including looking for work or training for it; offer families choices of programs, including from the private sector and charitable groups; and test for results.

Because “each case is different” – some aid recipients might have substance abuse problems, some might have character issues that hold them back from a job – he recommends case managers to help people navigate programs and chart a path forward. He called it as “customized aid” that would demand accountability in return.

Ryan rejected the idea that a state that refuses to expand Medicaid (health care for the poor) under the Affordable Care Act is a state that doesn’t care about the poor, citing his own state as an example. Wisconsin instituted a welfare-to-work program even though it has rejected Medicaid expansion.

His antipoverty plan is “the opposite of the Medicaid-Obamacare expansion, which is top-down dictated by the federal government," he said. "We’re trying to go with a bottom-up approach” that supports successful programs already being carried out by nonprofits and others.

As for questions about the cost of his plan, he said he’s still in the conversation stage, gathering feedback on his proposals. Once he’s settled on reforms, he’ll look at costs, he said.

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