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The GOP's New Plan To Tackle Poverty: Helpful Or Hurtful?


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR. I'm Michel Martin. We're going to start today talking about politics. Summer is supposed to be a slow time for political news but that's certainly not the case this year. There were some major headlines this week. There were conflicting court rulings pertaining to the Affordable Care Act. There was more debate over the handling of child migrants and Rep. Congressman Paul Ryan, a potential contender for the 2016, announced a new plan for fighting poverty.


REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN: What do we want? We want and healthy economy and a big part of that is having a safety net that is strong both for those who cannot help themselves and for those who need just a helping hand to get up and going in life.

MARTIN: Joining us to talk about these and other political stories of the week are two of our trusted analyst both former White House insiders Ron Christie is it a former assistant to vice president Dick Cheney and president George W. Bush. He's now a Republican strategist communications advisor and author. Also with us is Corey Elans, he's a former advisor to the Obama Administration. He's now a senior vice president of Vox Global. Welcome back to you both thanks for coming.

COREY ELANS: Pleasure to see you.

RON CHRISTIE: Good to be here.

MARTIN: So let's start with that poverty plan that Paul

Ryan outlined yesterday. It includes expanding the earned income tax credit for people without children and an idea to make that tax credit potentially more useful by allowing people to get the benefit of it throughout the year instead of in a lump-sum at tax . He also wants to combine a number a safety net programs, he says this will streamline the delivery of safety net benefits. Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, which is a center-left think tank, says his plan shows courage. So, Corey, I'm going to start with you because that's one of the things that Democrats have been particularly critical about Republicans, they say that they are very insensitive when it comes to the issue of poverty - they don't care. What you make of it?

ELANS: Well, when you take a look at the Ryan plan it's a classic good news bad news. The good news is all the things that you outlined - expanding the program to make sure individuals who are in poverty have a chance to get a leg up that they need. And also, this is very much in line with what the Obama Administration has put forward as far as their plans to expand EITC. So that is great. The bad news is how he wants to pay for it - and he wants to pay for it two ways or in multiple ways. One is by taking all of these old programs, these old social programs, and getting rid of them and using those funds to fund the program. The other thing he wants to do is to take a bunch of these programs block grant those plans and send them to the states. Now, on one hand, we don't know if any of that is going to be enough to pay for this ultimately. And two, sending programs to the states is analogous to the states having an opportunity to decide if they're going to take on Obama care or not. We know that's not...

MARTIN: What's wrong with that? What's wrong with that though? I mean, The fact that states are the primary deliverers of these kind of benefits, so what's wrong with that?

ELANS: Well, the challenge is that some of the states may decide, you know what, I don't think we're going to do what the federal government is asking us to do with these funds. I think we're going to slow walk it or do nothing. And so it makes the distribution of these resources very uneven. And basically, you're subject to the state that you're in as far as what kind of benefits you may ultimately receive and that's not a good thing.

MARTIN: So, Ron, let's talk two things there is substance and then there is tone. And Congressman Ryan like frankly a number of people in leadership positions in the Republican Party - I'm not just talk about the national level talking about the state and local level - have often been criticized for speaking about poverty in a way that is racially coded and offensive. So that this fix that? Does this meet the smell test, in your view, for somebody who is really wanting to open up a conversation?

CHRISTIE: Yes. I mean, I've known Paul Ryan for almost 25 years and this is nothing new from his trying to find a way to deliver much-needed services to those who are most at risk in the safety net, while at the same time, ensuring that the states are the best laboratories and the best people to dispense these services to people who need them. I was with the chairman yesterday when he made this announcement and one of the things, picking up on Corey's point, is that this is not just a lump-sum block grant to the states, this is a volunteer program. So a state has to decide, do I want to participate - yes or no. If I decide I to want to participate here's how am going to structure my plan. They would submit their plan to the federal government then HHS and the delivery system would say, OK we're going to take the California approach. So the notion that this is some of one size fits all block grant isn't true.

MARTIN: Tell me how the rest of the Republican caucuses is responding to this. What are you hearing so far? I understand this is very new, but what are you hearing?

CHRISTIE: I'm hearing very positive thing. And have to be perfectly honest with you, looking at what Paul Ryan has done, looking at what Rand Paul is talking about - this is not your old white guy Republican Party anymore. I think the younger leaders in the Republican Party recognize that in order to expand our base we need to do what is the simplest thing in politics - politics is about addition not subtraction. We need to find ways to appeal to people of color, we need to find ways to appeal to people who are of a different socioeconomic backgrounds and we need to ask if I'd a way to get rid of the social issues these stigmas that have really traumatized us the last couple of cycles. So good for them, that's what I'm hearing on the hill. People are very, very encouraged by this.

MARTIN: Speaking about, you know, another issue that is kind of emotional and touches on a lot of different issues and also is an issue that speaks to the ability of parties to attract people different backgrounds. There was more debate over the handling of the tens of thousands of child migrants mainly from Central America. Governor Martin O'Malley of Maryland, he's a Democrat - a solidly blue state - told the president not to send kids to a particular site there. They're looking for ways to alleviate crowding at the border and the conditions there that I think everyone agrees are note suitable for young children. You know, that caused a big kind of upset. On one hand, people are criticizing the president and people saying well, the Democrats don't have clean hands on this either. So just tell me, whether you think that, you know, Corey how you think this issue is playing out? Has the present done enough and is the criticism directed toward him justified?

ELANS: I think the president has done everything that he can do within his power at the moment. And I think what he is advocating is for leaders here in Washington to come together to come together with a real solution to this issue. Not just the narrow issue of children at the border, while serious as that is we've had 77,000 children and their families who have come to the border from Central American countries this year. The challenge is how can we do this in a way that matches the values of our country and our appreciation and history of cherishing immigrants.

MARTIN: OK, but the bottom line is people say the present just been slow he's just been slow off the mark. This is not a secret that these kids are here and that they're coming and that there's a problem. Yes or No.

ELANS: Well, I don't know that the president has been slow at all - one. And two, we have to appreciate this issue has doubled. We have doubled the number of kids this year that we had this time last year. And so this again is not something the president can singularly do. And then there's the other part - people who lobby this criticism are at the same time saying that the president shouldn't be executing, using his authority and executive powers to do more. And that's basically what we saw when the president was in Texas talking to the governor there. The governor says you need to do more, the president says tell your Republican friends not to sue me so I can do more - basically.

MARTIN: We're talking politics with our political insiders. Two former White House insiders. That's a former Obama Administration advisor, Corey Elans, who speaking just now. Also with us, Republican strategist former aid in the Georgia W. Bush Administration, Ron Christie. So, Ron, challenges on the Republican side as well as Corey just mentioned the Texas governor, also presidential hopeful, Rick Perry - he wants to send 1,000 national guardsmen to the border. Some state business leaders are discouraging that. How do you feel at your side of the aisle is handling this issue?

CHRISTIE: Well, I think as well as can be expected. Ultimately, I think that this is one that the president has been asleep at the switch. The present has been detached. The president has not been engaged. How can you have at the end of the fiscal year when the Bush administration left power that we had only 8,000 children from Central America coming and as Cory accurately points out, we have 76,000 here now, we're going to have 92,000 by the end of the year. This is something the administration was warned about two years ago and has done nothing to address it. I think Governor Perry is right, not only to put folks from the National Guard on the boarder, but most importantly...

MARTIN: What are they going to do?

CHRISTIE: They need to insure...

MARTIN: Are they going to point their guns at little kids?

CHRISTIE: ...No, you're not going to point - you need to ensure that you act as a backdrop to the border patrol who's, frankly, busy right now dealing with changing diapers and not doing with people who are coming in illegally of there're folks tried to break into our country. There are people who are trying to come. Let's stop them, let's put a spotlight on this. I think there's a humanitarian crisis, yes, but what gets me so upset about this is the president of the United States - he's going to meet with the president of Honduras and Guatemala this Friday. And the important thing here is, why hasn't he been speaking to them before and saying don't send your children here they're being raped they're being mistreated it's a dangerous journey, don't let them come here.

MARTIN: Very briefly.

ELANS: Very quickly, again the president is doing everything he can within his current powers to deal with the situation and looking like a wide range of issues. The meeting that he's having this week with those leaders is important because they have the ability to send signals to their constituency to say, look this is a futile game. You don't need to send your kids through muck and mire to get to the border and not have a guarantee that you're going to stay there.

MARTIN: We have to address one more issue before we let you go so I'll start with you, Corey, cause I'm going to give Ron the last word here. I give you the first word so I'm going to give him the last word today. Two federal circuit courts issued opposites rulings this week about whether subsidies for the Affordable Care Act are legal. Some legal experts assume this will end up before the Supreme Court. With these subsidies in dispute there's a new GAO report saying that the program is vulnerable to fraud. I mean, do you still count this as a possibility?

ELANS: Oh, no question. And evidence comes out every week that says is a policy success. Number one, right now you have more people who have healthcare than any time in the history of our country - that is a proven fact. The second is we see the law is working - more than $90 billion has been returned into individuals and families as rebates because insurance company's are either have excessive profits or they're not using those funds to actually provide services and insurance to families so they're getting those rebates. And then you see overall it's helping us to save money. So the program is definitely working. What you see here, this week is a classic argument between the letter of the law versus the interpretation of the law. The letter of the law says what it says about having that not applying properly so that it can't be used. The interpretation of the law says of course the federal government is able to do this and provide these subsidies.

MARTIN: Let me give Ron a chance to weigh in and finally I just want to say that NPR is reporting that 57,000 immigrant kids have come since October not 70,000 plus. I just want to sort of tell you that this is what our reporting said. Ron final thought for you, you know, is that Republicans have, you know, there've been dozens of house votes to repeal or defund the program. Is this a fight still worth having on the Republican side.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, I think it is. I think it's, you know, when Corey says that millions more people say have coverage, that's right, but there's a difference between having healthcare coverage and having access to a doctor. You're finding a lot more providers are denying folks on Medicaid - the ability to go to see them because of course they're not being fully reimbursed by the federal government. This is very important. The very statue says it's an exchange that is run by the that is entitled for people to have subsidies, not the federal government running a exchange. And a far better lawyer, far better mind than mine Laurence Tribes said that within a year or more the Obama Care that we see now won't exist.

MARTIN: Ron Christie is a Republican strategist. Corey Elans is the senior president at Vox Global. They were both kind enough to join us in our studio in Washington D.C. Gentlemen, I've appreciated both of your contribution to the program over the years I thank you both so much. We'll continue talking, perhaps in other venues to stay with us.

ELANS: God bless.

CHRISTIE: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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