"There was a time that I would talk about a difference between 'makers' and 'takers' in our country, referring to people who accepted government benefits. But as I spent more time listening, really learning the root causes of poverty, I realized something. I realized that I was wrong," Ryan said during his speech about the state of American politics. "'Takers' wasn't how to refer to a single mom stuck in a poverty trap, trying to take care of her family. Most people don't want to be dependent. And to label a whole group of Americans that way was wrong. I shouldn't castigate a large group of Americans just to make a point."
In a question and answer session after his speech, delivered before a group of House interns, Ryan added, "I was callous and I oversimplified and I castigated people with a broad brush. That's wrong. And there's a lot of that happening in America today. I myself have made that mistake."
Ryan, the former House Budget Committee chairman, has long proposed budgets and policies seeking to drastically cut social safety net programs. The latest example is a 2017 Ryan-backed budget blueprint, which cleared the House Budget Committee last week.
"Despite House Speaker Paul Ryan's statements in recent months that House Republicans want to focus on and reduce poverty, the budget calls for what would be the most severe budget cuts in modern history in assistance for Americans of limited means," Robert Greenstein from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) said in a statement.
Under the proposal, such programs would be cut by a "stunning $3.5 trillion over ten years, eliminating, by 2026, roughly 40 percent of federal resources for low-income assistance," he added. "Although low-income programs account for 28 percent of federal domestic-program spending (i.e., spending on everything except defense and interest payments on the debt), they would bear about 60 percent of the cuts in the House budget."
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is one crucial anti-poverty initiative that alone would be slashed by $150 billion, or more than 20 percent, over the next decade under the GOP plan.
"A cut of this magnitude would necessitate ending food assistance for millions of low-income families, cutting benefits for millions of these households, or some combination of the two," reads a CBPP analysis. "The committee has proposed similarly deep SNAP cuts in each of its last five budgets."
The House Budget Committee proposal sets discretionary spending at $1.07 trillion and seeks to reduce the deficit by $7 trillion over 10 years through cuts and projected economic growth.
The budget plan has been met with resistance from far-right Republicans. They want additional cuts included to offset a $30 billion spending increase authorized for 2017 as part of a two-year budget deal, which the White House and former House Speaker John Boehner reached in October before he resigned.
In an apparent effort to appease conservatives, the House Budget Committee approved an amendment to the budget resolution from U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ,5), urging leadership to locate $30 billion worth of cuts in future fiscal bills.
Nonetheless, Ryan is finding it difficult to get members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus on board with the budget resolution. The House adjourned Wednesday for Easter recess without passing the budget measure and is scheduled to return April 12. That leaves Congress with just a few days to pass a budget resolution by the April 15 statutory deadline.
Meanwhile, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) released its own 2017 budget proposal last week, called "The People's Budget: Prosperity Not Austerity; Invest In America."
"The People's Budget stands in stark contrast to Republican efforts to impose austerity policies that harm working Americans and safeguard corporate tax giveaways," reads a CPC statement.
CPC's budget blueprint calls for over $1 trillion in infrastructure investments over 10 years, including $765 million for replacing water pipes in lead-contaminated Flint, Michigan. It outlines a plan for creating some 3.6 million jobs, pushing the employment rate down to 4 percent, cutting poverty in half over a decade, cracking down on wage theft, making debt-free college a reality and implementing comprehensive immigration reform, to name a few proposals.
On the revenue side, items include taxing Wall Street transactions and having the wealthiest Americans and corporations pay more in taxes.
Another key area of the CPC plan is defense spending, which progressive lawmakers would like to see approached in a more "sustainable" manner. From the caucus' budget document:
Pentagon spending has doubled over the last decade at the expense of investments in working families. But as the war in Afghanistan draws to a close, we need a leaner, more agile force to combat realistic twenty-first century threats. The People's Budget responsibly ends operations in Afghanistan, brings our troops home, focuses Pentagon spending on modern security threats instead of Cold War-era weapons and contracts, and invests in a massive job creation program that will help workers transition into civilian jobs. The People's Budget also increases investments in diplomacy, sustainable development, and humanitarian assistance to address the ongoing crises in Syria and Iraq. The Congressional Progressive Caucus does not support Pentagon cuts mandated by sequestration and believes there are more responsible savings achievable that will not harm service members and veterans.
Since CPC unveiled its budget proposal last week, over 150,000 people have signed a petition in support of the plan, which is also backed by 47 organizations.
"While our budget gains support every day, House Republicans are unable to get their own members to sign off on their budget. Hardworking Americans need a budget that puts their needs ahead of big corporations and special interests," CPC's leaders said in a statement Wednesday. "That's what The People's Budget does - ensuring every family struggling to make ends meet has a fair shot at the American Dream."
The CPC includes three Illinois Congressional Delegation members, including Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL,4), Danny Davis (D-IL,7) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL,9), one of the caucus' vice chairs.
Image: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster