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House Speaker Paul Ryan Wants To ‘Get at the Root Causes of Poverty’

Government often keeps people trapped in poverty, House Speaker Paul Ryan said an interview with Bold Founder Carrie Sheffield today at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

“We care about restoring the American idea,” Ryan said. “And that is the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life. We are the only country founded on an idea. That’s the idea. That’s what it’s all about.”

WATCH the discussion below:

See the transcript below:


Opening video from Opportunity Lives.


Carrie Sheffield: So we’ve been working with you, speaker, to tell these stories at Tell us what you’ve done the last three years.


Speaker Paul Ryan: So that’s a good picture of some incredible human beings, good friends of mine now who are actually succeeding in defeating poverty. I mean, what we don’t all see in this country is that right under our noses in the most difficult communities in America there are men and women who are successfully overcoming poverty themselves and helping other people to do the same. And so what we’re trying to do is learn from them so that we see more of that. And as conservatives I think we have so much to offer in this area. As conservatives I think we can get the moral high ground. And the goal here is to go at the root causes of poverty to help break the cycle of poverty. And to call into question the status quo of this war on poverty, which is basically been fifty years, trillions spent and we basically have a stalemate on our hands. And we think by applying our principles we can see better results and actually get at the root causes of poverty. And the comeback video just shows what our principles look like in real life.


Sheffield: I want to pick up on what you said which was that conservatives traditionally have been back on our heels. We’ve been pushed back by liberals to say we don’t care about the poor, we don’t care about people who’ve been left behind. But that couldn’t be more far from the truth, as you know. And tell us why that is. Why does government actually exacerbate the problem of poverty rather than trying to solve it?


Ryan: Two things. I think we’ve lost the definition of success in the war on words, I guess. We have been defining success as how much money are we spending, how many government programs have we created, how many people are on those programs. That’s success. Well, why don’t we think about measuring success in the war on poverty by how many people are we getting out of poverty? How many people are getting on their own two feet and living lives of their own, shaping their destiny? Reaching their version of the American dream. That’s point number one. Point number two is what we are doing is we are saying the government in so many ways has been a part of the problem. I call it the poverty trap. If you take all these government programs — I’m just talking about the federal government, about 92 federal programs spending $800 billion a year. And they’re all stacked up on top of each other. And what they effectively end up doing is they tell people don’t work. They make it harder for a person to work. The top effective tax rate in America today is not being paid by Warren Buffett or Bill Gates or Aaron Rodgers. And Aaron Rodgers probably deserves that tax rate. It’s paid by, you know, the single mom with two kids making $20,000 something that if she gets a raise she’ll lose 80 cents on the dollar, so she doesn’t. Or if she goes to work she loses more benefits than she gains in going to work. So we’re trapping people in poverty, by basically paying people not to work. So we need to make it so that work always pays. And what we’re doing with these programs is we’re isolating the poor. We’re pushing people outside of the workforce, and they’re missing out and we’re missing out on their talents. So we think good conservative welfare reform moving from welfare to work, going with what works and letting local communities have more power to revive their communities, like these guys do in these great videos.


Sheffield: So you’re saying the federal government doesn’t know what it’s doing, and local communities do?


Ryan: They (local communities) do. Not only does the federal government not know what it’s doing, the federal government thinks it knows what it’s doing and when it doesn’t it actually does more harm than good in many cases, I’m not saying…


Sheffield: You’re absolutely right.


Ryan: I’m not saying everything is bad. The federal government can provide resources, but the federal government should mind the supply lines, not the front lines. This is what the left misunderstands so profoundly, I think. There’s this space between ourselves and our government, it’s called civil society. It is community. It’s where we live our lives. And what the left always seems to confuse is they think this is wrong, bad, inefficient, more more government should be closer between ourselves and our government and there shouldn’t not be this middle ground, our churches, our civic groups, our communities, our families, that’s where we live our lives. That’s what Alexis de Tocqueville came to America to say how great we were and how exceptional we were, the left is squeezing this. We want to expand this. And we believe by getting the government out of the way and removing these barriers that allow people to make something of their lives, we can do a better job of actually fighting poverty and we’ll measure success on outcomes on results, are people actually getting out of poverty and building their own lives together.


Sheffield: So you’re talking about accountability from your government.


Ryan: Yes.


Sheffield: What a novel idea, right?


Ryan: We want to measure success by real success.


Sheffield: Right. And talk a little bit about regulation as well in addition to this poverty trap. Because regulation — this is something we as conservatives we really need to push back about this. Regulation hurts the little guy. It hurts people who need to be able to stand on their own two feet. This is something for example, Dodd-Frank, Dodd-Frank is killing banks that are owned by African-Americans. They cannot comply with this regulation. So let’s talk about that for a little bit. Talk about regulation and the role that that plays.


Ryan: I call it the two Rs, regulations are regressive. Regulations raise the cost of government, regulations raise the cost of living, regulations raise the cost of everything and make it more difficult for people who are in poverty to get out of poverty. Regulation raises the price of your food, raises the price of your clothing, raises the price of your energy, of your electricity. Regulation makes it harder to create jobs. Regulation — and this is why one of the five planks of our agenda we’re putting out in the House of Representatives is regulatory reform, but more importantly it goes to self-government. Who writes the laws in our country? Is it the legislative branch of government under Article 1 of the Constitution who are dually elected by the people or is it this fourth branch of government that nobody voted for, career bureaucrats, they don’t know you, you don’t know them – who are writing all these regulations that actually end up having the full force of law. Take a look at the new coal regulation coming out of the Obama administration that the Supreme Court struck down 65% of our power in Wisconsin comes from coal. They were going to jack up our electricity rates. And it’s kind of cold in Wisconsin, just so you know, this time of year especially.


Sheffield: Hence the beard.


Ryan: Hence the beard. I shaved. Actually there is something to that. What they’re going to do is crank up the cost of electricity. Who does that help the most? Who does that hurt the most? It hurts people who live paycheck to paycheck. Who need to put gas in the car or heat their homes. And it hurts businesses and manufacturers who want to hire people. So what we’re going to be offering and running on this fall is all these major regulations that are coming out of these unelected bureaucracies, all that has got to come back to Congress for final vote and approval or amendment before it goes into effect so we restore the Constitution and the principle of self-government.


Sheffield: Excellent. I think that’s very interesting when you’re talking about regulation as the barrier and as putting layers of bureaucracy between the vulnerable and those who are supposed to be protecting them. What kills me though is you could talk about these facts, these are facts. These are quantitative data pieces. The Heritage Foundation does great work. American Enterprise Institute, I mean, amazing think tanks. You could spout facts all day and yet the liberals are the ones who still kill us when it comes to poverty. How do we push back against that?


Ryan: One of the things we’re saying is let’s have — we have these things called cost benefit analysis which the Obama administration ignores – to weigh the cost and benefits of regulation, but now we’re saying let’s also measure how proposed regulations affect the poor. How proposed regulations affect the out of pocket cost, the take home pay of people, how they affect jobs, we need to think of this as well. And by the way there’s a way to measure this so public officials in the public see what are these harmful regulations going to do to the least among us living paycheck to paycheck to people trying to build their lives together. The point I would make in all of this is let’s go at the root cause of poverty to break the cycle of poverty. And just so you know government isn’t the answer. Government can be a part of the answer by helping people be the solution, getting government out of the way. And government can provide resources in many ways, but let’s customize welfare benefits so that they can meet people with their needs and encourage things like work. Encourage things like going to school. We have tens of millions of able-bodied adults in America who aren’t working, who aren’t looking for a job or aren’t even in school getting training for a job. This is a big problem for America. And as conservatives, you know, we reformed welfare in 1996 – that was one program. It worked really well by the way. Work requirements, time limits.


It lifted millions of people out of poverty. It dropped child poverty rates precipitously. But that was one program. We have several dozen others that have not been reformed and that’s what we want to do.


Sheffield: Right. And that’s fantastic. In terms of as we said you’ve been doing this for three years now, talk a little bit more about the people element. So you’ve been going to rural areas. I went to high school in the Ozarks, you have poverty there in Appalachia, also our urban areas, talk about your tour, you’ve been going around with Bob Woodson; he’s a hero in the war on poverty.


Ryan: He is. He is my mentor. He runs Center for Neighborhood Enterprise; taking conservative principles and apply (them) to the problem of poverty to show better solutions. So I’ve been spending the last few years going around America visiting with poor communities and with leaders on the front lines of the war on poverty. You saw the first guy talking in that video. He runs a ministry called Outcry in the Bario out of San Antonio. They’re taking people addicted to heroin off the streets, putting them in their place, in their program, and for months they’re working with people to get them off heroin, rebuild their lives. They’re finding Christ. And it’s working. They’re not going back on the streets. They’re not going back on drugs. This is something that civil society is actually working to help these people rebuild their lives. One other thing, Omar, the other guy — the second guy talking (in the video shown). Omar is an incredible guy. Omar and his best friend Anton Lucky, one guy ran the Crips, one guy ran the Bloods in Dallas. These guys were tough people. These guys went to prison. They were gang leaders. What are they doing now? They found G-d — not everyone’s faith-based, grant you, but these two are really special ones. And they have credibility. So what are they doing in the streets of Dallas? They’re ministering to young men and they’re saying do not make the mistake that I made. Do not do this because this is what will happen to your life. They have credibility. And they are able to turn young men and get them on their path, get them out of gangs, get them out of violence and get them into being good husbands and good fathers and gainfully employed. These men are heroes. These people have cracked the code. How do you break the cycle of poverty? That’s not government. That’s civil society. That’s people helping each other fighting poverty eye-to-eye, soul-to-soul, that works. And that’s what we’re trying to show. And that’s what we want government not to hurt, not to block, not to push aside, but we want more of that. And that is what we’re trying to talk about.


Sheffield: That’s fantastic. Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’m reminded — maybe some folks in this room didn’t know, but we co-hosted with Opportunity Lives and the American Enterprise Institute and the Kemp Forum. We hosted a presidential forum on poverty earlier this year in January. And we had half a dozen presidential candidates. And one thing that Mike Huckabee said that really struck and really struck when you said what you just did was that the government can give you a sandwich, but the government cannot give you a hug.


Ryan: That’s right.


Sheffield: Government is inherently a bureaucratic, sanitized, sprawling institution. It’s not a human. It’s not a heart-to-heart institution. And I think the work you are doing here is showing that we are, as conservatives, we care about the full person and not just a blank check.


Ryan: We care about restoring the American idea. And that is the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life. We are the only country founded on an idea. That’s the idea. That’s what it’s all about.


Sheffield: All right. Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. It’s been great to chat with you here. Thank you everybody.


Ryan: Thank you, Carrie. God Bless Everybody. Have a great day.

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