This should have been the title of the Washington Post story earlier this week on Paul Ryan. The story says that Paul Ryan has sought the help of Bob Woodson to “gather community leaders for an event next year, and to help him compare the results of their work with the 78 means-tested programs that have cost the federal government $15 trillion since 1964.” This is interesting since Woodson is the CEO of a tax-exempt corporation with a K Street address that receives most of its funding from government grants, a relevant fact, which alas, the WaPo does not provide to its readers.
I’m also fairly certain that the government funding received by Woodson’s organization over the years as well as that received by the “community leaders” almost certainly includes funding from some of those “78 means-tested programs.” This will make the comparison the WaPo says Ryan is going to make difficult to say the least. If I am wrong about this, Woodson and his other community leaders can post the list of the specific government programs they receive funding from to clarify the matter.
Two more general things about those “78 means-tested programs that have cost the federal government $15 trillion since 1964.” First, this conservative talking point, which comes from the Cato Institute and is slightly mistranslated in the WaPo piece (it refers to both federal and state expenditures), is extremely selective in ideological terms. For example, Medicaid is on the Cato list, but not federal tax expenditures that subsidize employer-provided health insurance and cost more than Medicaid. Expenditures on Medicaid mostly help working class children and parents, the elderly, and people with disabilities, while subsidizing employer-provided health insurance mostly benefits people in the top 40 percent of the income distribution. Second, this is a good example of where a responsible budget reporter would have told readers that $15 trillion over roughly the last half century isn't quite 3 percent of U.S. GDP.
Also interesting if tangential: Woodson receives nearly $300,000 in annual compensation. This seems like a lot for a non-profit anti-poverty organization the size of Woodson’s—just over a third of its 2011 expenditures on employee compensation went to Woodson himself—but, of course, it’s not a lot of money in relative terms for a K Street CEO.
What passes for conservative thinking on poverty today basically amounts to little more than repeated calls to slash effective social insurance programs that other conservatives played a major role in establishing or expanding, like Social Security Disability Insurance (Dwight D. Eisenhower), food stamps and Supplemental Security Income (Richard Nixon), and the Earned Income Tax Credit (Bill Clinton). My advice to any thoughtful conservatives who actually want move beyond a poverty agenda that amounts to little more than financing tax cuts for the rich on the backs of the working class: stop listening to what places like Cato or Heritage have to say about poverty, forget about Bob Woodson and Charles Murray. In short, stop living in the 1980s.