Paul Ryan's Speech is an Outrageous Empty Gesture When The Speaker Has the Power to Fix What's Broken

Paul Ryan's Speech is an Outrageous Empty Gesture When The Speaker Has the Power to Fix What's Broken

Speaker Ryan gave a speech on Wednesday that is being hailed in political circles as a breath of fresh air in the midst of alarming and violent rhetoric from candidates of his party running for president. Titled "The State of American Politics", Ryan's speech is being discussed for specifically admitting that he has contributed to the troublesome political discourse of scapegoating prevalent in his party.

I’m certainly not going to stand here and tell you I have always met this standard. There was a time when I would talk about a difference between “makers” and “takers” in our country, referring to people who accepted government benefits. But as I spent more time listening, and really learning the root causes of poverty, I realized I was wrong. “Takers” wasn’t how to refer to a single mom stuck in a poverty trap, just trying to take care of her family. Most people don’t want to be dependent. And to label a whole group of Americans that way was wrong. I shouldn’t castigate a large group of Americans to make a point.

Paul Ryan didn't merely talk about "makers and takers", he is the modern Republican leader who popularized it. Paul Ryan was the conservative darling half of a presidential ticket that ran on the idea that "takers" were taking over the country. As the Chairman of the Committee in the House that writes the budget and as Speaker, Paul Ryan has advanced budgets that would devastate what little help exists for that struggling single mother he speaks of, and the most recent budget presented by his party in the House is no different.

It's nice that Paul Ryan gave a speech acknowledging an error in the way he has spoken. But Paul Ryan is not a private citizen with no more than a ballot as his platform. Paul Ryan is the Speaker of the House. Paul Ryan determines what gets voted on and passed on the floor of the people's House.

The time when the Speaker of the House could simply give a speech to excuse the sins of his party of scapegoating the poor, people of color, immigrants and others have long passed. It is time for Paul Ryan to prove that he believes in the things he's saying.

For his entire term in office, President Obama has offered far-reaching compromises to the Republicans again and again in the interest of governing while the Republicans have rebuffed him.

If Speaker Ryan truly cares about entitlement reform, he can, tomorrow, pick up a compromise that has been on the table for years: ensure that Social Security has a baseline benefit above the federal poverty level, extend Social Security Payroll taxes to those with the highest incomes, and use a better method of calculating cost-of-living increases that will help tame the costs over the long term.

If Speaker Ryan truly cares about that single mother he speaks of, he could pick up the phone and call every Republican governor and legislative leader in states that are refusing fully federally funded Medicaid expansion and tell them to accept it and extend coverage for 5 million additional Americans.

If Speaker Ryan is truly tired of the extremism, dogmatism and scapegoating of political discourse, he should be looking at that extremism's most glaring legal and policy manifestation: the Supreme Court's gutting of the Voting Rights Acts protection for minority voters in states with a history of voter suppression. A legislative solution to restore voting rights exists right now, and Speaker Ryan even reportedly supports it. But he has refused to force his party to consider it. It's time for Ryan to rise to his role as Speaker of the House and put that bill to a vote on the floor of the House.

Speaker Ryan can, right now, put comprehensive immigration reform to a vote.

If Speaker Ryan truly wants a return to normal order in the federal government, it is time for him, as the highest ranking elected Republican in the country and in Congress, to rebuke his party for Senate Republicans' extraordinary refusal to consider a superbly qualified nominee for the Supreme Court nominated by the sitting president in his Constitutional role. It's time for Speaker Ryan to tell his Republican colleagues in the Senate to do their Constitutional duty and give Judge Garland a full hearing and a vote.

The Speaker and his party must prove that they are once again able to govern, that they are once again able to compromise for the good of the country. They must, through legislative action, sweep aside the extremists in their party as Democrats often have ours to the very loud discontent of that faction. They must once again show that the Constitutional roles of the President and Congress do not hit a pause button once there is a presidential campaign under way.

The Speaker has the power to make much of this happen. Without that action, the Speaker's words are precisely the kind of hollow, dangerous lip service that fuels the power of extremists as people of good will become consumed by apathy.

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