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House Speaker Paul Ryan On Why He Wants To Customize Welfare Benefits


Let's listen to the man who will preside over the Republican National Convention in this city this week. House Speaker Paul Ryan is the nation's highest-ranking Republican. We heard last week on the program about Ryan's extraordinary challenge. He says he supports Donald Trump as a better possible president than Hillary Clinton, though Ryan would not say that Trump would be a good president.

Ryan has his own agenda, and you can think of this part of the interview as the GOP's road-not-taken. He would rather focus on some conservative economic ideas, his plans to attack poverty and, also, to reach out to racial minorities.


PAUL RYAN: A lot of people don't believe in the American idea anymore. The condition of your birth doesn't determine the outcome of your life. This is America. You can make it. You know, you work hard but play by the rules, you can rise. You can do well. That's what we're taught. That's what we believe. That's what we think of as America. Problem is, there are just generations of people in this country who do not think that.

INSKEEP: Do some of the statistics that you quote, like the fact that very few people can get out of poverty if they're born into poverty, show that it's actually not the country we believed it was?

RYAN: No, I think that's right. So we think of the ideal, and we think that that is what the country is. And then, you go actually look at the country and the conditions, you're just as more likely to stay poor today as you were if you're born into poverty 50 years ago. And what I look at is - I see problems that can be fixed because I see solutions that are actually occurring. There are people in communities who are actually out there fighting poverty eye-to-eye, soul-to-soul, in neighborhoods that actually do well, that succeed. But for government, I think in many cases, they could do more.

INSKEEP: Mr. Speaker, you say something that a lot of Republicans have said over the years, that some Democrats have said over the years. You've argued that welfare is keeping people away from work.

RYAN: Yeah.

INSKEEP: It disincentivizes work...

RYAN: Correct.

INSKEEP: ...As you will. One answer in the past has been simply to cut welfare. Is that what you want to do?

RYAN: No, I think the smarter thing to do is to customize a benefit to a person's particular needs. And that's what I learned by traveling the country, looking at different models that work. Maybe this woman needs addiction counseling, or maybe she needs a GED or transportation or something. You customize the benefits for her particular needs with the proper accountability, instead of having these hard cliffs. So as you describe it, just cutting off welfare, you know, and sort of the cold love doesn't work.

INSKEEP: When we've done voter interviews, we find a lot of people who are working. And they're making $10 an hour. They're making a couple dollars an hour as a waitress, plus tips.

RYAN: Right.

INSKEEP: Why not do something that raises wages?

RYAN: Well, skills - so actually, I think - when you raise the minimum wage, we already showed - CBO tells us you'll lose, you know, over a million jobs in certain proposals. So you don't want to take away those entry-level jobs that get people the hard and soft skills they need just to learn how to do work. Every person has a different problem. Sometimes a person has an even deeper problem, like an addiction or something like that.

So that's why I think it's important to not have some sort of one-size-fits-all program in Washington, which has downsides like killing entry-level jobs - but pulling people into the workforce.

INSKEEP: Mr. Speaker, thanks very much.

RYAN: You bet. My pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is presiding over the Republican Party's convention here in Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.