Paul Ryan discusses fixing the social safety net and the moral components of the budget debate
A Closer Look with Sheila Liaugminas
Detailing the Medicare & Medicaid Reforms in the Path to Prosperity
For Medicare: Nothing changes for anybody over the age of fifty-five under our plan, and we can keep making that commitment if we fix these programs soon. Medicare is projected to go bankrupt, the Hospital Trust Fund is, by 2024 so we need to start now. We say, nothing happens for anybody fifty-five and above. For younger people, fifty-four and below, when they become Medicare-eligible they get to select among a list of guaranteed Medicare coverage options, including traditional Medicare, and then Medicare subsidizes their premium based on who they are – providing more for the poor and the sick, less for the wealthy. Doing it that way saves Medicare, not only for this current generation but for the next generation.
Under the President’s law, fifteen bureaucrats who are unelected, unaccountable, they make the decisions. We want to empower fifty million seniors to make the decisions as to what is the best way for them to receive their Medicare benefit.
For Medicaid: we give the states the ability to customize Medicaid to meet the unique needs of their population. Medicaid spending goes up each and every year under our plan; it just doesn’t go up at the incredibly fast pace the President proposes because we think it bankrupts the program. We propose in our budget that annual federal spending rises from $3.6 trillion a year to $4.8 trillion a year over the ten-year period, instead of the President’s proposed increases to about $5.8 trillion a year. Apparently that difference – meaning, growing federal spending at a slower pace than the President proposes – makes us “social Darwinists,” or things like this. It’s sort of hysterical, over-the-top rhetoric that, at the end of the day, I just don’t think people will buy because they know we can’t keeping borrowing and spending like we are.
Ryan on the Proper Role and Goal of Government:
I’m not suggesting that the government has no role to play; I’m just saying that it shouldn’t be the total role. We believe in the principle of subsidiarity, which is sort of like federalism: government and institutions closest to the person governs and serves the best. We don’t want to lose sight of that, and that principle is related to and connected to solidarity which means, we’re all in this together for the common good. We interact in our lives through our charities, through our civic organizations, and help those in our community advance the common good, and government clearly has a role to play in all of this. What I’m simply saying is when government gets too big, when government gets too distant from us, it ends up crowding out those very institutions of civil society that advance the common good. It makes it harder for people to serve in their communities, it makes it harder for governments to be responsive to their local communities, and it actually makes us more subservient to what Pope John Paul phrased as the “social assistance state,” which really ends up with rank materialism.
We believe in the safety net that is there to help people who truly cannot help themselves lead dignified lives. We believe in a safety net to help people who are down on their luck so they can get back on their feet but we do not want to convert the safety net into a system that traps able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency, that drains them of their incentive and their will to make the most of their lives. We don’t want to have government grow so much that it crowds out, displaces, makes harder to implement these civil mediating institutions that are between people and their government – our churches, our charities, our institutions that get us working together as human beings. We’re trying to get back to those basics. And if we keep going on the path we’re on – where we’re borrowing so much from our children’s future, where we’re courting a debt crisis – then we’ll have an economic crisis that hurts those who need help the most the first.
Addressing the Root Causes, Instead of the Symptoms of Poverty
These current policies are not working. One in six people are in poverty today. The poverty rate among women, the poverty rate among all Americans is the highest it’s been in a generation. What we’re saying is fix these programs. We heard the same kind of criticisms we’re experiencing today when we did welfare reform in the late nineties. That reformed one program and it helped increase people going from welfare to work, it helped reduce child poverty rates. Those same principles – local control, bringing control back to the states, having work and job training requirements, which help get people back in dignified lives, off of welfare and into work, which reduce child poverty rates – are the same principles we’re applying to these other welfare programs that have not been reformed. We believe it’s not just a money-saving exercise – and federal spending still increases under our budget, albeit not as fast as the President’s proposing because we think that brings us to a debt crisis – but we’re proposing critical reforms of these programs so that they work better, so that they work in transitioning the poor.
The critical thing in my mind when we look at federal policy is: are we simply treating the symptoms of poverty to make poverty easier to cope with and live with, which therefore makes it more permanent and lasting, or are we looking at the root causes of poverty, with the goal of breaking the cycle of poverty to get people into lives of upward mobility, into lives of self-sufficiency? The goal of my teaching, as I understand it, is to focus on the dignity of the individual human person, and when we have so much government that puts people into lives of dependency, that threatens our economy with a debt crisis, that violates that principle.
Reforming Government Programs & Averting a Debt Crisis
The government has made a lot of empty promises to people, and politicians from both political parties have made those promises. If we wait until a debt crisis to address this, those empty promises will become broken promises, and the people who need government the most are the ones who get hurt the worst. We’re trying to make good on these promises and prevent that, but you must reform these programs to do it – that means focusing on economic growth and more local control, customizing benefits to help people who need them most. I’ll give you one example: job training. Currently there are forty-nine different programs spread across seven different agencies that are focused on the issue of job training. We consolidate them into career scholarships to go to a person when they lose their job in a sector that’s no longer employing, to go back to school to learn a skill in a trade and enter a career that’s more promising, which provides them a better, decent standard of living. Those are the kinds of things we’re doing to try in an effort to help transfer people from welfare to work and into lives of self-sufficiency and you’ve got to have a good, growing economy that provides opportunity to people in order to do that.
Americans Want Solutions, Not Inaction and Rhetoric
The problem is the President hasn’t proposed a solution to prevent a debt crisis. The Senate has chosen, for over a thousand days, not to even do a budget. We believe we have, not only a moral, but a legal obligation. We have a law that says we must pass a budget every year; we’re following that law. House Republicans are the only ones who have put out a comprehensive solution that actually averts a debt crisis. So, unfortunately, those who see us as political adversaries – like the President and the Senate – have decided not to offer a solution, have waited for us to offer ours and then attack it with this kind of rhetoric.
I don’t think it’s going to work. I think people are going to see through this at the end of the day. I think people want leaders; they don’t want politicians. They want people telling it to them like it is – what’s going on, what’s needed to prevent these crises from occurring, and getting us on the path to growth, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
On How Morality Impacts the Budget Debate
Timothy Dolan was the Archbishop of Milwaukee and I represent much of the Milwaukee Diocese, so I’ve known him for a long time. We’ve become good friends. We exchanged letters last year on this issue because he sent a letter, as the head of the Bishop Conference to all of Congress. I sent a letter in response to that and he responded to that. We have kept in dialogue with this, and what Tim will tell you is, these issues are up to the prudential judgment of the laity. It is not the Bishops’ job to serve as politicians but as pastors, and to advance the Church teachings – the preferential option for the poor, subsidiarity, solidarity, and how we apply those.
I’m showing how I take those principles and apply them as a lay member of the Church. It’s completely fine and within reason that some people don’t see it the same way - that’s up to our prudential judgment. I am not trying to claim exclusive justification of social teaching for my version of public policy, but a liberal can’t do the same, either. What I am saying is, I think this is the best way to apply these principles so that we have the kind of society that we are all trying to get to, one where we share in a growing economic pie, one where more people find lives of opportunity and prosperity and upward mobility, one where we actually are providing a safety net to help people who truly cannot help themselves, and where we’re not crowding civil society out of our communities, but creating enough space for civil society to be a part of our communities so that we can advance the common good as citizens.