Gage Skidmore / Flickr paul ryan...
Gage Skidmore / Flickr

House Speaker Paul Ryan thinks if he just repackages his desire to methodically cut each strand of the safety net, then gutting Medicaid and Medicare and nutrition assistance will suddenly become popular.

During a Wednesday night retreat session, for example, Ryan was in full salesman mode. He told lawmakers they need to prioritize “getting people the skills and opportunity to get into the workforce,” according to a person in the room. And he insisted the idea is popular.

He emphasized the “jobs” piece of the equation, pointing out that there are 6.6 million people on unemployment and more than 5.8 million open jobs. That skills gap, he said, could be filled by the unemployed population if the government provided the facilities to link the two.

“We need to focus on closing the skills gap,” he said, reading from a month-old Washington Post headline that said: “2018’s challenges: too many jobs, not enough workers.” “Our goal should be helping those people close that skills gap. This improves people’s lives, and it helps our economy in general.”

House Republican Study Committee Chair Mark Walker, though, admitted that there’s a branding issue involved, saying “When we talk about ‘Medicaid reform,’ that’s not a great buzz phrase.” And that’s why Ryan is going to talk like he just wants to reintroduce the suffering poor to the joyous dignity of work. But here’s a key sentence from that Washington Post story that Ryan cited: 

Firms that save money from the tax cuts may simply be unable to find more workers to hire at the price they are willing to pay.

At the price they are willing to pay. Employers have been moaning for years about a skills gap, and time and time again we find it’s a good employer gap, and that the whiners are not willing to pay what workers are worth. 

Ryan’s plans also ignore the fact that many people who need government assistance are already working, they’re just not making a living wage. He needs to ignore that, though, because he sure doesn’t want to talk about how raising the minimum wage would be one way to help many people not need nutrition assistance or Medicaid. Or how many of the unfilled jobs out there on which he’s pinning his argument for work requirements would still leave workers and their families in poverty or right on the brink of it.

Finding the right branding for cutting the programs people rely on is not going to make the need any less. But Ryan doesn’t think it will. He’s just looking for a way to sell his plans as something other than cruelty.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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