The Debatable Premise Underlying Paul Ryan’s Antipoverty Plan

WASHINGTON — An antipoverty agenda that Speaker Paul D. Ryan and House Republicans rolled out last week is based on a bedrock premise: The federal government has spent trillions of dollars over more than a half-century and has lost its war on poverty.

But that premise is substantially undercut by separate studies from economists at Columbia University and the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service that show reductions of 40 percent or more in families living in poverty.

Indeed, experts on social welfare policy say, these substantial gains in reducing poverty are not visible precisely because Republicans succeeded over the last decades in shifting government aid programs from direct cash assistance to benefits like food stamps and housing vouchers that are not counted in annual statistics.

“Republicans don’t seem to catch on that this eliminates one of their talking points,” said Ronald T. Haskins, who helped write the 1996 law overhauling the welfare system as a senior Republican staff member on the House Ways and Means Committee, and who later served as an adviser on welfare policy to President George W. Bush.

 The Republicans’ election-year agenda, called “A Better Way,” was also lacking in specific legislative proposals to address poverty.

Details were left out, in part because of internal Republican policy disagreements and in part because of a general opposition among Republicans to any government spending.

 – New York Times