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Who Is the Real Paul Ryan?

Deficit hawk vs. pragmatic policymaker

Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

When House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan revealed in November that he planned to release an anti-poverty agenda in 2014, liberals scoffed. “Everything [Ryan]'s ever done—everything—boils down to a single sentence: reduce taxes on the rich and reduce spending on the poor,” Kevin Drum said. “It doesn't even take much digging to figure out that this is what he's saying.”

Yet, on Thursday, Ryan released his long-awaited anti-poverty agenda and liberals…weren’t that upset. At The Week, Ryan Cooper called it a “marked improvement from his previous efforts.” Over at the Washington Post, Jared Bernstein gave Ryan credit for a number of features in the plan. That’s not to say the proposal is all good. Cooper, Bernstein and others all offered convincing critiques of it. But unlike in Ryan’s budget, liberals found areas of agreement in his antipoverty agenda.

How’s that possible given the Ryan Budget’s massive cuts to anti-poverty programs? Easy: Ryan created an anti-poverty plan that is inconsistent with his budget. In his budget, Ryan cuts food stamps by $137 billion, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. In his anti-poverty agenda, he doesn’t cut food stamps at all. In fact, Ryan’s plan even includes an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit. (Overall, the plan is deficit-neural.) In other words, Ryan’s budget and his anti-poverty agenda are mutually exclusive.

You don’t often see a politician unveil two major, contradictory proposals within a few months of each other. But that’s exactly what Ryan did. And it leads to a different question: Who is the real Paul Ryan? Is he a deficit hawk who panders to the far right? Or is he a pragmatic policymaker that wants to increase anti-poverty spending? Ryan’s supporters say that he’s the latter and that his budget wasn’t his exact position, but represented the opinion of the entire House Republican caucus. For instance, Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist at the New York Timeshypothesized that “[the Ryan] budget’s implausible discretionary cuts were mostly driven by the political imperative.” In the wake of Ryan’s new antipoverty agenda, Douthat is looking prophetic.

In effect, then, Ryan is saying, “Ignore my past four budgets and the radical spending cuts in them. That was a show for the far right. I actually want to increase spending on anti-poverty programs.” Of course, Ryan won’t actually admit that, because it would infuriate the far right. But make no mistake, that’s what Ryan was implicitly saying Thursday.

Danny Vinik

Things to know

OBAMACARE: The Competitive Enterprise Institute found a 2012 presentation from Jonathan Gruber, an architect of both Obamacare and Romneycare, in which he argued that states who refused to set up their own exchange would be ineligible for federal subsidies. In other words, he made the exact case that the plaintiffs in Halbig are making.

IMMIGRATION: The Obama administration is considering allow hundreds of minors from Honduras to enter the United States as refugees without taking the trip north. Officials would vet the kids in Honduras. (Frances Robles and Michael ShearNew York Times)

IMMIGRATION PART 2: First it was Ted Cruz, and now other GOP policymakers are calling to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, in response to the border crisis. On Thursday, Marco Rubio announced he'd like to "wind down" President Obama's signature executive order granting legal status to young undocumented immigrants. (Elise Foley, Huffington Post)

CLIMATE CHANGE: Four states that probably have some of the most vocal Republicans against the EPA's climate regulations will happen to benefit the most. A new report shows that Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana will get $18 billion as they switch from coal to natural gas under the rule. (Amy HarderWall Street Journal)

Things to read

EconomyJames Pethokoukis wonders at the GOP's inflation hysteria. (The Week)

Things to watch

Nothing major today, but policymakers will continue working on legislation before the August recess.

Things at QED

Rebecca Leber explains all of the hidden, horrible impacts of climate change.