Paul Ryan on NBC’s Meet the Press discussing expanding opportunity and fixing our broken immigration laws
NBC's Meet the Press
David Gregory: We are back with House Budget Chair and 2012 Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who is one of the most influential voices in the Republican Party and in Republican politics. In previous years, his budget plans have provided a blueprint for efforts to roll back government. This week, he unveiled a major proposal to fight poverty. And Chairman Ryan joins me now from his home state of Wisconsin. Good to see you, thanks for being here.
Paul Ryan: Good morning, David.
David Gregory: Lots to talk about. We've talked so much about foreign affairs and hot spots around the world. I want to focus on back home with you. You laid out a plan for attacking poverty this week, which I'll get to in just a moment, but here Congress is about to leave having achieved so very, very little. And on this issue of immigration, you voted to support a law that basically created a situation we have now, which is those who come to the border from Central America have to be put into a process where they are evaluated before they can be instantly deported. Do you have a different view of how that should happen now? Do you think these children and others, tens of thousands of them, should be sent back home?
Paul Ryan: Yes, I do. Otherwise the humanitarian crisis will continue. Otherwise families in countries far away on the other side of Mexico will be giving thousands of dollars to traffickers to take their children over the border and the humanitarian crisis will get worse. So I do believe we need to amend this law, which never intended for this to happen, to make sure that you can treat people in non-contiguous countries just like we do Mexicans and Canadians so that we can stop this crisis. We intend to do that this coming week here in the session of Congress. But the other point about Congress doing nothing, look no further than the United States Senate. We've passed over 300 bills in the House,bills aimed at job creation, fixing problems, that are just sitting in the Senate going nowhere because the Senate has chosen basically to not legislate and give the President a free hand.
David Gregory: But at the same time there are issues—and people watching this who are already pretty disaffected with both sides in Washington—you look at an issue like dealing with some of the problems in the Veterans Administration. Both the House and Senate passed a bill and you can't even reconcile some of these differences. This is Washington at work doing nothing.
Paul Ryan: Trust me. We're frustrated as much as you are, David. We've been passing solutions, we have been passing bills, and the Senate has been walking away. They are in conference this weekend on the veterans’ issue. We've actually proposed a very specific solution to make sure that any veteran who can't get the care they deserve and have earned gets that care. The House Republicans have put forward a specific solution. Now we’re trying to see if the Democrats and the Administration are willing to work with us to do that.
David Gregory: Let me ask you about poverty. I want to just put up a summary of what you are proposing about how to rethink entitlement programs and deal with poverty. You’d like to consolidate 11 federal anti-poverty programs including programs like food stamps, public housing assistance, childcare aid, low-income energy assistance and cash welfare; consolidate them; have states administer them. They would get a certain amount of money and have some creativity to spend that money. You even talk about the creation of individual case officers at a state level who could deal with a poor family, for instance, and try to give them a path out. Skeptics have said, they have cited one thing that really struck me, which is some of the poorest states are run by Republican Governors who have refused to even expand access to Medicaid under the Obamacare law, so you can understand why people would be skeptical that giving them that kind of power would actually lead to constructive solutions to deal with people who are poor.
Paul Ryan: Look, first of all, these programs don't work with each other. In many ways they end up being counter-productive because poverty is a complicated problem and it needs to be customized. Second of all, we have basically a poverty management system with respect to the federal government. If you want to have a healthy economy and have real solutions, you have to have a healthy safety net and the safety net needs to work to get people out of poverty. So my argument here is: let’s not focus on inputs, how much money we spend. Let’s focus on outcomes. Are we actually getting people out of poverty?
The best way to do that, in my opinion, is to listen to people on the ground and people who are fighting poverty person-to-person, and give them more flexibility in exchange for more accountability to actually get people out of poverty. We have learned good lessons about the right way to do this and not, and I would argue that we can customize a benefit to the person based on their particular needs which actually helps them get out of poverty long-term. We spend $800 billion every year on 92 different programs to fight poverty, yet we have the highest poverty rates in a generation. We need to change the focus. And I think is a very good step in the right direction. I want to have a conversation about how to improve the outcomes.
David Gregory: Let’s talk about your own attitudes about people who are poor and their views on government. You were on this program in January of last year and you said the following:
Paul Ryan: We don't want a dependency culture. Our concern in this country is with the idea that more and more able-bodied people are becoming dependent on the government than upon themselves for their livelihoods.
David Gregory: It doesn't sound like there’s a lot of sympathy for people who you think need the governments help. What you seem to be saying is people have a problem with their own dependency here that government is only furthering.
Paul Ryan: That's not my intent, that’s far from it. My point, and I'll make it again, is we don't want to have a poverty management system that simply perpetuates poverty. We want to get at the root causes of poverty, to get people out of poverty, and I would argue that this is the best way to go forward. And that's what we're proposing here, which is, have benefits customized to a unique person's problems—because poverty is very complicated—to not just keep them where they are but help them get where they want to be. That is what is the thrust of these proposals.
The federal government's approach has ended up maintaining poverty, managing poverty, and in many ways it has disincentivized people from going to work. In some cases, you lose more in benefits if you go to work, so some don't go to work because of the federal disincentive to do so. So we need to reemphasize getting people up and on their lives and giving them the tools to do that. That's the point. Able-bodied people should go to work and we should have a system that helps them do that so they can realize their potential. That, to me, is a far better system to get people out of poverty long-term than just spend more hard-working taxpayer dollars on a program that is not getting the results that people deserve.
David Gregory: Chairman Paul Ryan, a debate that will continue. Thank you very much for your thoughts this morning.
Paul Ryan: Thank you, David.