While the president* was fastening on his Serious World Leader face Monday night, Speaker Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny-starver from the state of Wisconsin, was facing a carefully tailored audience at a CNN “town hall” in Racine. Because Ryan is the biggest fake to hit Congress since the King of the Cranks, Ignatius Donnelly, there was the usual nonsense and prevarication. (Chait puts paid here to Ryan’s outright mendacity concerning healthcare. Alas, Jake Tapper, who otherwise did a good job, whiffed on this one.) But my favorite moment came when Ryan was confronted by a Dominican nun who challenged him to square his zombie-eyed granny-starving with his Catholicism. What followed was pure Ryan, which is to say dishonest, cowardly, patronizing, and totally unmoored from either self-awareness or actual reality. Gaze in awe.
(This, by the way, is the second time this year that CNN has handed Ryan this kind of platform. I do not know why that is.)
QUESTION: Good evening, Mr. Speaker. I know that you’re Catholic, as am I, and it seems to me that most of the Republicans in the Congress are not willing to stand with the poor and working class as evidenced in the recent debates about health care and the anticipated tax reform. So I’d like to ask you how you see yourself upholding the church’s social teaching that has the idea that God is always on the side of the poor and dispossessed, as should we be.
RYAN: Spoken like a great Dominican nun. Look…
Sister, you may — this may come as a surprise to you, but I completely agree with you. Where we may disagree is on how to achieve that goal. As you know, we all exercise prudential judgment in practicing our faith. And for me, the preferential option for the poor, which is something that’s a key tenet of Catholic faith, that means upward mobility, that means economic growth, that means equality of opportunity. That to me means working with this guy over here at Gateway Tech to make sure that we can close the skills gap, to make sure that every person who wants a career and job can get the benefits.
The budget produced by the House Of Representatives—Paul Ryan, Speaker—would cut education and job training programs by 25 percent.
We actually just passed this bill in July. Before that, we passed another skills bill. That means to me taking this 20th century poverty program that we have, which is — we’re in the 32nd year of the war on poverty. Trillions spent, and guess what? Our poverty rates are about the same as they were when we started this war on poverty 32 years ago.
No outside events have occurred since 1985 that might account for this. Also, Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty in his State of the Union address in 1964, which is 53 years ago. Again, nothing has happened in the intervening years that might account for the difficulty in waging this war.
So the status quo isn’t working, Sister. And what I think we need to do is change our approach on fighting poverty instead of measuring success based on how much money we spend or how many programs we create or how many people are on those programs, you know, measuring on inputs. Let’s measure success in poverty on outcomes. Is it working? Are people getting out of poverty?
Well, since, for example, the House budget cuts food stamps by almost $200 million from the food stamp program, one way people might get out of poverty is by starving to death. You will note, by the way, that we are now a loooooonnnng way from the 25th chapter of Matthew.
And what I believe, when you look at it that way — actually, I have a commission that Patty Murray and I set up that’s underway right now to focus on these measurements. We need to make sure that we bring people into the workforce. The poverty — the poor are being marginalized and misaligned in many ways because a lot of the programs that we have, well intended as they may be, are discouraging and dis-incentivizing work.
OK, so here is what I don’t get. First of all, a great many poor people work their asses off, and in the private sector, too, and they’re being patronized by a guy who hasn’t spent 15 seconds in the private sector since he went away to college. His family got rich building roads on government contracts. His father died, and he went through high school on Social Security’s survivor benefits, a program that the budget proposed by the president* would eviscerate. Since then, he’s been a congressional aide and a congressman. My question is that, when he was going through high school on my nickel, and the nickels of millions of other Americans, including the poorer ones, why wasn’t he “disincentivized”? How did he avoid the terrible trap of the government “hammock”?
We were just — no, it’s true. We were just talking about it. We were just talking about tax reform. And I was telling you about these successful small businesses in Wisconsin, they got a 44.6 percent tax rate. That’s not the highest tax rate payer. I mean, Aaron Rodgers, who deserves every salary, is not the highest tax rate payer in this state. You know who it is? It’s a single mom getting $24,000 grand in benefits with two kids who will lose 80 cents on the dollar if she goes and takes a job.
Surely you recall that passage from the gospels where Jesus talks about lowering the top rate and doing away with estate taxes. (It was in the small print, and in Aramaic, at the bottom of the scroll.) And, anyway, the budget proposed by the House of Representatives—Paul Ryan, Speaker—would cut programs that would benefit that “single mom” by over $3 trillion.
We have to fix that. And that is why we have to fix it not by just kicking people off callously…
I’m sorry, but I have to stop here. This guy is still fighting for a policy that the Congressional Budget Office says would kick 30 million Americans off their health insurance. Maybe Ryan plans not to do this “callously.” Maybe he’s going to hand out balloons and lollipops. And, anyway, wasn’t this supposed to be about the gap between his policies and the teachings of his faith? I wish that nun had a ruler.