No, Paul Ryan Does Not Want To Strengthen The Safety Net

A blog about business and economics.
March 20 2012 8:13 AM

No, Paul Ryan Does Not Want To Strengthen The Safety Net

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WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 07: House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) takes reporters' questions during a news conference where he introduced a package of ten legislative reforms designed to reform the budget process at the U.S. Capitol December 7, 2011 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin chairs the House Budget Committee and is also a follower of the philosophy of Ayn Rand. As he put it, " I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand" which is why he requires staffers to read Atlas Shrugged. Normally we don't think of Republican members of congress as super-concerned with the poor, and we especially don't think of Republican members of congress who are also committed Randians to be super-concerned with the poor. And, indeed, Ryan's priorities as revealed in both last year's version of his budget proposal and this year's new one are to keep taxes low and military spending high. Obviously to do that you need to ax programs aimed at benefitting poor people.

But one of Ryan's oddest ticks is that along with a passion for reducing spending on programs that benefit poor people and a passion for programs that benefit Ayn Rand, he loves to talk about his devotion to the safety net! This pops up a couple of times in an op-ed he wrote for today's Wall Street Journal, most egregiously here:

Like last year, our budget delivers real spending discipline. It does this not through indiscriminate cuts that endanger our military, but by ending the epidemic of crony politics and government overreach that has weakened confidence in the nation's institutions and its economy. And it strengthens the safety net by returning power to the states, which are in the best position to tailor assistance to their specific populations.
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What Ryan is talking about here is Medicaid which offers health care coverage to the poor, to the disabled, and to an important class of elderly people. Currently the money for Medicaid comes from both the states and the federal government. States have to meet a lot of minimum coverage standards and get federal financial assistance for doing so, and in addition states have the option of securing additional federal monies for additional coverage if they're willing to kick in extra money of their own. Because health care is proejcted to grow more expensive over the next fifty years, the cost of this program is projected to go up substantially. One way of preventing that from happening is to just refuse to pony up the money, and make Medicaid beneficiaries get by with less health care. And that's what Ryan's plan does. On the one hand, it excuses states from their minimum coverage responsibilities. On the other hand, it reduces the amount of money that's available to give people coverage. Which is all about what you'd expect from a tax cutting Ayn Rand fan. Keep the money in the hands of the job creators who earned it rather than handing it out to the moochers and looters looking for a little free medicine.

But please God almighty can we avoid referring to this as a measure that "strengthens the safety net" by empowering states to "tailor assistance to their specific populations"? Ryan doesn't like taxing the wealthy to give resources to the poor and disabled, so he proposes to give fewer resources to the poor and disabled.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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