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Ryan's right to question the status quo

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March 18, 2014 | comments

By Journal Times Editorial Board

“Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty. Since then, Washington has created dozens of programs and spent trillions of dollars. But few people have stopped to ask, ‘Are they working?’ ”

That is how a newly released House Budget Committee report starts. The 204-page report takes a look at nearly 100 federal programs designed to help low-income Americans — programs the government reportedly spent $799 billion on in fiscal year 2012, according to the report.

Since the report was released, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, has been chastised for trying to take billions out of the hands of our poorest residents, including children. Most of the criticism was to be expected and likely some Democratic press releases were written after simply reading the report’s title, “The War on Poverty.”

Reading though the report, it does seem certain information was very selectively included in the report, while other information wasn’t.

For instance, it says the free and reduced lunch program started originally during World War II because one-third of draftees had nutritional deficiencies that made them unfit for combat.

However, the report says now children receiving free and reduced lunch, are more likely to be obese. But it doesn’t say anything about studies on what happens if kids don’t eat lunch.

To say the least, the report definitely oversimplifies the issues. After all, there is no way to really explain the pros and cons of 100 programs with one or two pages each.

At the same time, Ryan is right to question $799 billion in federal spending.

In a phone interview with The Journal Times earlier this month, Ryan explained, “As a policymaker, what I’m trying to figure out is, how can we expand what works and then fix what’s not working … If the status quo was working great, then there wouldn’t be a need to question the premise of the status quo. It’s not doing well, and therefore I question it.”

We also question it when you have cities like Racine with jobless rates in the double digits and employers still struggling to find good workers.

There is room for criticism of Ryan’s report and, similarly, a few of Ryan’s recent comments on the subject needed to be clarified. But both Republicans and Democrats alike should join Ryan in an attempt to try to figure out what more we can do to help our nation’s low-income population.

It is not reasonable to think the government will ever be able to 100 percent end poverty, but it is right to try to seek solutions which will eventually give people living in poverty a path toward independence. To do that, we have to stop periodically and ask: “Is what we are doing working?”


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