Partisan conflicts in the United States are becoming increasingly heated. Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University, analyzed data from the American National Election Studies and concluded that “voters like their own party and its leaders as much as ever,” but that they “dislike the other party and its leaders much more than ever."
In that environment, it’s rare that any significant proposal can draw praise from both sides of the aisle. But that’s the case with Representative Paul Ryan’s new anti-poverty plan, “Expanding Opportunity in America,” which is being hailed as an innovative approach to solving intractable economic problems in a way that appeals to Democrats and Republicans alike. Ron Haskins, writing for the non-partisan Brookings Institution, said, “This is the best, most comprehensive and potentially bipartisan set of ideas for promoting opportunity that has appeared in many years.”
Ryan’s plan addresses a whole host of issues, including education reform, welfare reform, regulatory reform, wage subsidies and federal sentencing laws for non-violent offenders. He proposes granting more flexibility to state and local governments in administering these programs, while at the same time creating a research mechanism to follow up and ensure that the reforms actually work. All of this is done in a revenue-neutral way – no new taxes, but no spending cuts, either.
In announcing his program, Ryan highlighted Utah Sen. Mike Lee’s supportive efforts in combating poverty. Sen. Lee is the darling of the Tea Party movement, and his backing of Ryan’s plan would give it credibility with a large number of conservatives. At the same time, liberal columnist Ezra Klein said the Ryan proposal was “a big step in the right direction for the Republican Party” and that there “are some very good ideas in there.”
If Mike Lee and Ezra Klein can find common ground that means there’s something here worth our attention.
Not all partisans have given the Ryan plan glowing reviews, however. In response to this proposal, left-wing New York Times columnist Paul Krugman labeled Ryan a “con man” and insisted that this plan is just one more of his “con jobs.” House Speaker John Boehner, when asked about the Ryan proposal, offered a non-committal acknowledgment of the importance of fighting poverty, but he was reticent to endorse Ryan’s specific approach. So while there is support from diverse quarters, there is criticism, too.
But that’s hardly surprising. No one should expect unanimity in politics, and there are certainly details of the Ryan plan that will change as a result of legislative compromises. What’s noteworthy is this plan is a critical starting point for a much-needed bipartisan dialogue about poverty. As such, it is a welcome addition to the national conversation.