WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Paul Ryan is proposing an overhaul of the nation's poverty programs, the first of several policy plans aimed at uniting Republicans fractured by a contentious election and Donald Trump's personality-driven politics.
Ryan's proposal would make changes to welfare, food and housing aid programs, among others, to increase work requirements, make the programs more efficient and allow states to make more decisions about how the aid is distributed. Ryan won't immediately translate most of these ideas into legislation, since his major points wouldn't be enacted under President Barack Obama. But the idea is to set the stage for the future if a Republican should become president.
Ryan says Republicans need to better define what they are for, not just what they are against. In a video posted Friday, he made an appeal to frustrated Republican voters who are supporting Trump, the party's presumptive nominee. Trump himself has said little about what he would do with poverty programs, nor has he highlighted the issue as one of his major policy concerns.
"We can get angry and we can stay angry or we could channel that anger into action," Ryan said in the video.
But despite Ryan's efforts, this year's political climate has thrived on distinctly nonsubstantive issues. As Ryan planned to announce his poverty plan in Anacostia, one of Washington's poorest neighborhoods, on Tuesday, he and other Republicans were forced to disavow Trump's latest comments about the ethnic background of an American federal judge. Trump said U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel can't be impartial in lawsuits against Trump University because his parents were born in Mexico and Trump wants to build a wall along the border. Curiel was born in Indiana.
The attention on Trump's rhetoric has frustrated lawmakers in both the House and Senate who would rather voters be focused on the Republican policy agenda.
"I'm not going to sucked into talking about Trump 24-7," said No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas on Monday evening as reporters asked for his latest reaction. "We're going to talk about our work and what we're doing here."
Ryan endorsed Trump last week after a lengthy delay, making clear that support is largely due to the fact that a Republican president could help him enact his longtime policy goals. Overhauling the nation's welfare and nutrition programs has long been a priority for Ryan, who also plans to release a national security plan on Thursday. Policy plans on regulations, the Constitution, health care and taxes will roll out in the coming weeks.
Ryan calls his proposals "a better way." He says major change is needed because current programs haven't changed the poverty rate over the last five decades and Washington is measuring success by how much it spends, not how much it helps. The idea is to create incentives for states to improve programs, for more beneficiaries to work and for employers to provide more work. Among the policy suggestions is to consolidate some federal food aid and housing aid programs, though the plan does not lay out exactly how that would be done or which programs would be consolidated.
Some of the proposals, such as scaling back the Obama administration's stricter nutrition rules for school meals, are already in motion. The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved legislation along party lines last month that would allow more flexibility to schools in serving meals and reduce the number of free and reduced price meals served in some schools.
Ryan's plan is certain to meet immediate opposition from Democrats, who have long criticized his attempts at overhauling the nation's poverty programs. They have said his proposals would result in massive cuts to current programs and leave needy people without aid.
"While Speaker Ryan rolls out a swanky new policy agenda in an attempt to offer an alternative vision to that of Donald Trump, Americans across the country are struggling," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., ahead of the release. "The only 'better way' that Speaker Ryan's recommendations will offer is a better way to fall into poverty."