THE BLOG
11/19/2013 02:27 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Paul Ryan, Poverty Warrior? Huh?

Look, I'm fine with the occasional puff piece, but you gotta give me something to go on. This morning's Washington Post printed a feature on Rep. Paul Ryan's plans to fight poverty by embarking "... on an ambitious new project: Steering Republicans away from the angry, nativist inclinations of the tea party movement and toward the more inclusive vision of his mentor, the late Jack Kemp."

You learn that Ryan's "...been quietly visiting inner-city neighborhoods... to talk to ex-convicts and recovering addicts about the means of their salvation." And that he and his staff have "...been trolling center-right think tanks and intellectuals for ideas to replace the "bureaucratic, top-down anti-poverty programs" that Ryan blames for "wrecking families and communities" since Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty in 1964."

Then you read page after page, trying to figure out what the dude is actually saying he'd do to lower poverty, and here's what you're left with: vouchers, tax credits, and volunteerism.

All sizzle, no steak.

And is that not the story of Rep. Ryan? His is the classic example of the adage that if you've got a reputation for being an early riser, you can sleep til noon.

What are his accomplishments? He's authored some of the harshest and most unrealistic budgets I've ever seen, and I've been on this beat for awhile -- none of them have or are going anywhere legislatively.

His proposals to block grant major safety net programs (freeze their spending levels and hand them over to states), like SNAP and Medicaid, would gut their critical countercyclical function (as was the case with TANF). He used the Heritage Foundation's economic wizards to predict the his budget would reduce unemployment to less than 3% (don't look for this forecast, though-his team pulled it once they actually, you know, looked at it).

Nor is he an accomplished legislator. He clamors for "grand bargains" but voted against Bowles-Simpson (didn't like the tax increases) and failed in the "super-committee" to reach a budget deal, thus ushering in sequestration. As a close colleague of his says in the WaPo piece, "Paul's not a dealmaker." Quick-or for that matter, take your time: name one piece of enacted legislation in which he played a significant role... I'm waiting... still waiting...

OK, time to get to work, and I'm sorry to start the day with negativity and snark. But the emperor in the empty suit has no clothes.

Ryan Poverty Plan
1. Cut spending on the poor, cut taxes on the wealthy
2. Shred safety net through block granting federal programs
3. Encourage entrepreneurism, sprinkle around some vouchers and tax credits
4. ???
5. Poverty falls

This post originally appeared at Jared Bernstein's On The Economy blog.