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Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)
How do you restore your reputation after being part of a disastrous presidential campaign that put a face to Americans' discomfort with growing wealth inequality? For Rep. Paul Ryan, the answer appears to be pretending you care about poverty. Ryan may be most associated with Mitt Romney in the public mind, but right now what he's going for is George W. Bush-style "compassionate conservatism." That's where you say you care about poor people, and your answer to their problems is private charity, and you ignore that private charity cannot address the size of the problem.

According to Ryan, the war on poverty "has failed," and:

“Too many people don’t know what the American idea is anymore,” the Wisconsin Republican said, calling for a more streamlined federal government and a family-and-community-oriented approach to fighting poverty.

Ryan said that the government has done a lot to erode civil society, prioritizing redistribution over community engagement. Instead, he said, the federal government “keep[s] dumping money into programs we know won’t work.”

The problem here is, we know that many of the programs Ryan would slash absolutely do work. Food stamps improve children's health and educational outcomes. The Earned Income Tax Credit boosts employment among single mothers. If you look at the government's Supplemental Poverty Measure, safety net programs cut poverty in half.

Not only are government programs very effective, but charity cannot replace them. Food bank directors themselves said so following November's cut in food stamp benefits. That didn't kick people out of the program, it "only" cut around $36 from a family of four's monthly benefits, but it had food bank directors saying things like:

"[W]e’re here to provide some food, but we were never meant to be sustaining people. We were meant to be emergency ... And now what you have here, the government pulling some of their very important partnership in helping to feed those who are struggling to put food on the table. The charitable system can’t make up such a loss of that."
The fact is, Paul Ryan is a giant fan of redistribution and a government that works to achieve it. He just wants the redistribution in question to go upward. To that end, he's attacking programs that do work and calling for them to be replaced by private charity that simply cannot fill the gap; having poor people rely on private charity to eat also fundamentally defines them as beholden to other individuals, rather than citizens whose government has a responsibility toward them.

Sign and send our petition to your Democratic senator, telling them in no uncertain terms: No Farm Bill that cuts food stamps. Absolutely no cuts to food stamps at all. None.

Originally posted to Laura Clawson on Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 09:44 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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