Ryan Opening Statement: The War on Poverty: A Progress Report

Chairman Paul Ryan: Opening Remarks, As Prepared for Delivery

Well, good afternoon, everybody.

Forty-nine years ago, Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty. In 1964, he said, “We have declared unconditional war on poverty. Our objective is total victory.” Later that year, he added, “I believe that thirty years from now Americans will look back upon these 1960s as the time of the great American Breakthrough . . . the victory of prosperity over poverty.”

Since then, we’ve spent over $15 trillion in that war. So what do we have to show for it? Well, today 46 million people live in poverty. And 20 million Americans live on less than half of the poverty level. For too many families, the American Dream is out of reach.

Now that’s partly because of the recession. But even as the economy picks up steam, millions of families are falling behind. And many communities have been hurting for years—well before the recession hit. The fact is, we’re losing the War on Poverty. And we need to know why.

This isn’t about cutting spending. This is about improving people’s lives. In this country, the condition of your birth shouldn’t determine the outcome of your life. If you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead. That’s something we all believe in. That’s something we all care about.

This is the central promise of America. We want to protect that idea—and preserve it for the next generation. And government has a role to play. But we’ve been doing a lousy job. The reason is, government focuses too much on inputs. We focus on how much money we spend. Instead, we should focus on results. We should focus on how many people get off public assistance—because they have a good job.

The federal government is like a giant sedimentary rock. There are layers upon of layers of programs that have built up over time. In fact, there are so many of them—and there is so little coordination between them—that they work against each other. In effect, we penalize people for finding a job or getting a raise.

And even worse, some programs displace the efforts of local communities to help families in need. Government shouldn’t displace these efforts. It should support them.

So I hope today’s hearing will start a conversation. Both sides need to rethink government’s approach to poverty. How can we support our local communities? How can we renew the American Idea?

To that end, I’m pleased to welcome Secretary Eloise Anderson, the head of Wisconsin’s Department of Children and Families. She brings decades of experience as a social worker and administrator.

Professor Besharov, from the University of Maryland, brings decades of academic expertise. He’s well-versed in the history of these societal challenges and government’s response to them.

Jon Baron, from the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, is a distinguished, nonpartisan leader in evaluating government programs.

I also thank Sister Simone Campbell for joining us today.

With that, I recognize the ranking member, Mr. Van Hollen, for his opening remarks.