House Speaker Paul Ryan spoke at an economic conference Thursday on how to use conservative principles in the fight against poverty.
Ryan argued that economic mobility is an inherently American virtue that needs to be restored. He detailed a plan that centers on reducing the role of government and empowering local advocates. The idea mirrors a common sentiment on the right, that government isn’t always the best way to address economic problems.
“This is what conservatives have been working on for years,” Ryan told the crowd. “We have been spending so much time on how to better solve these problems, how we can take our principles and apply them to problems to offer very good innovative solutions that are effective.”
Ryan added that lawmakers should make it easier for people to join the workforce. He argued that there are too many barriers that disincentivize people from getting a job. His ideal plan would be to move government into a role which supports local advocates instead of coming in to replace them.
“We cannot keep embracing this arrogant, paternalistic notion in Washington,” Ryan said. “We have to stop fighting this idea of poverty as some sterile, cold concept that we don’t like and then create some big bureaucracy and program in Washington and then parachute into communities and push them aside and say we know best.”
Ryan went on to say that the war on poverty may have been noble but the current approach has caused a stalemate. There are dozens of individual federal programs designed to fight poverty. The federal government spent $799 billion on these programs in 2012 alone.
The American Enterprise Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Manhattan Institute and other right-leaning organizations hosted the all-day conference. It included numerous speakers and panels to discuss ways to address poverty and economic mobility.
Advocates on the left have vastly different ideas on how to best fight poverty. They view government as a tool in which to better deploy resources and focus efforts. President Barack Obama has been an outspoken advocate for the poor and has invest billions of more dollars into federal efforts to reduce poverty.
Federal programs serve multiple purposes from providing food, housing and education. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), for instance, received $78 billion in funding to fight hunger in 2012. The programs were meant to help reduce poverty but over the decades the problem has increased exponentially.
Ryan and other lawmakers may soon get the chance to implement their conservative approach. Republicans maintained their congressional control during the Nov. 8 election while also gaining the presidency. President-elect Donald Trump hasn’t spoken much on poverty but has echoed similar distrust of government programs.
Trump has focused more on helping people get and maintain their jobs. His campaign was built on a platform which sought to aid displaced workers. He hinted that he might increase work requirements for assistance programs. The government currently requires healthy adults without children to work in order to qualify for programs like food stamps. Sometimes the requirements are waived, such as after an economic downturn.