Speaker Paul Ryan’s GOP Policy Proposals

At abetterway.speaker.gov US House Speaker Paul Ryan has begun pushing policy for the future of the GOP. First was a report on poverty, then one on national security, and more to come. Here are some thoughts on what’s there so far.

First, the rhetoric is the same. You get throwaway lines like, “American foreign policy is failing at nearly every turn.”

On Poverty

“No amount of government intervention can replace the great drivers of American life: our families, friends, neighbors, churches, and charities.” The latter line falls after a paragraph that points out, “In [the sense of their rate of escaping poverty], Americans are no better off today than they were before the War on Poverty began in 1964.”

In other words, the great drivers and the government have both failed to move the needle. Guess that means less government intervention is the solution. Must be the onerous regulation of everything that has thwarted the vast, private anti-poverty efforts. Huh?

The document seems to mostly focus on the same-old of workfare, but there are some potentially-useful bits. Social Impact Financing is a start-up model of privatizing social services, whereby providers (and their investors) are paid with public funds if they achieve something. One can imagine such a program having positive impacts, though it’s unclear whether they can do so in a way that avoids inviting regulation (i.e., if they take advantage of the poor to maximize public payments).

More importantly, however, is that the report fails to get away from the sort of separate-but-equal that is all too common in policy. The VA, for example, has many problems that would vanish if the bulk of care were provided in the same system everybody else uses. If the average American was in-queue next to a veteran and saw them shafted, the law would change much more quickly. More importantly, the social-mixing and ready-for-tomorrow benefit of, e.g., welfare recipients working through an embedded institution rather than a separate system.

In plain language, a welfare recipient should not see a difference in their financial rituals during versus after welfare unless that ritualistic change itself has some positive end in mind. They should receive welfare through normal banking channels, for example. The whole purpose of welfare should be to normalize the right behaviors as a person escapes poverty. It should be gamified, made to feel like a logical process (in both the common sense and in the sense of a deductive process reaching a conclusion).

National Security

If the poverty document was mostly about workfare, this one is warfare. The document looks at terrorism, border/immigration, and cyber defense. It’s a much weaker document in terms of program recommendations.

“Decisively tackling emerging threats before they metastasize.” Why didn’t Obama think of that?! Might as well just say, ‘Keep Americans safe.’ The document is much more antagonistic toward the Obama administration, while offering no real criticisms (again, the same thing the GOP has done for eight years).

If I were Ryan, I’d go to the folks that wrote the poverty paper and have them make a new national security paper. The poverty piece wasn’t great, but at least it was more than banal polemic.

The parts where this document make sense still read as too obvious and generally agreed to by both parties. “Our ultimate goal must be to transform developing countries from aid recipients into trading partners.” Yes. Agree. Do you have some new ways to invigorate those efforts?

With four more releases planned for the “A Better Way” policy campaign (on the economy, the Constitution, health care, and tax reform), so far it looks like a middle-Republican effort and about what one would expect. We’ll see if there are any real departures from the status quo.