Speaker Ryan Fails to Consider His Faith in His Policies

By Molly Burton, NETWORK Intern
July 7, 2016

My name is Molly Burton and I’m very excited to say that I’m interning at NETWORK this summer. I’m a rising junior at the University of Notre Dame, studying peace studies, gender studies, and philosophy. My ultimate career goal is to become a human rights lawyer and work in policy against sex trafficking and sexual based violence against women, so I’m excited for NETWORK to teach me more about the lobbying side of policymaking. I’m originally from St. Louis, MO and went to Catholic grade school (Mary, Queen of Peace) and high school (Nerinx Hall).

That description doesn’t just describe me, however, it describes hundreds, even thousands of people whose Catholic backgrounds guided them into the policy world. One of these people is current Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. Though Speaker Ryan and I might share the same religion, I frequently (if not almost always) disagree with him. An example of this can be seen with Speaker Ryan’s recent release of his anti-poverty plan, “A Better Way to Fight Poverty.” House Republicans released this plan at the beginning of my third week at NETWORK and my third week on the Hill and it left me a little disappointed in how the House Republicans view poverty and those stuck in poverty. I have been grateful for the amount of pushback this plan is getting from critics both inside and outside of the Congress.

You’d think fighting poverty would be an issue that both parties would agree on, that we could put aside our differences and help those who need it the most. Well, it doesn’t seem to be that way at all. The 30 plus page document that Speaker Ryan released (that I couldn’t even get all the way through because it frustrated me too much) has an underlying message throughout that no one would be poor if they worked. For instance, the taskforce that “A Better Way” creates, “recommends that federal safety-net programs expect work-capable welfare recipients to work or prepare for work in exchange for receiving benefits. That’s the only way they can escape poverty.”

This idea bugged me just a little bit (a lot it bugged me a lot). It ignores the systemic nature of poverty and how truly difficult it is to escape it. It ignores how ingrained racism, sexism, and classism is in our society and how that constantly pushes people down. It ignores how society has ghetto-ized poverty and forced those who are perceived as different out towards impoverished, violent neighborhoods with poor education systems. Speaker Ryan’s poverty plan is not a better way to fight poverty; it is a better way to fight those in poverty.

His ideas aren’t going to make conditions better for anyone living in poverty. Honestly, the ideas that Speaker Ryan presented in his plan offended me and I’m sure anyone who has seen poverty first hand. In my opinion, Speaker Ryan misinterpreted what it means to help those in poverty by expecting from them to achieve what was handed on a silver platter to him and those surrounding him. His privilege makes him blind. Though I am incredibly privileged as well, I’d hope that the influences in my life, like my years of Catholic school and the Catholic Social Justice principles here at NETWORK, have given me a way to see those struggling with poverty without blindly demanding more work from a population that has been working as many shifts as possible at a minimum wage job and making still less than the federal poverty line. Don’t get me wrong, I respect Speaker Ryan’s right to his opinion and definitely acknowledge that he is way more informed about policy than I, an intern and not even a junior in college, am. Yet, I still ask Speaker Ryan to consider his Catholic faith and really ask himself if “A Better Way to Fight Poverty” really is a better way to fight poverty.

Read more from NETWORK about Speaker Ryan’s new anti-poverty plan here.