WASHINGTON -- House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has been talking an awful lot about poverty lately -- some say insultingly -- but there is very little nonpartisan evidence of whether his proposals, particularly the budget plan he is advancing on the House floor this week, would help or hurt the poor.
So, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the chair of the whip's Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality, and Opportunity, are asking the Congressional Budget Office to weigh in. The CBO calculates the budget impacts of all of Congress' legislation.
From the letter:
"An analysis of how Chairman Ryan’s budget resolution would affect poverty in our nation would help Congress understand the full impact its severe domestic spending cuts would have on the most vulnerable Americans. Specifically, funding for nondefense discretionary accounts, a category of spending that includes public education, home heating and rental assistance, nutrition assistance, health, and other critical investments, would be dramatically reduced by Chairman Ryan’s budget resolution. The budget resolution would shift Medicare costs onto seniors, restrict funding for a Medicaid program that largely benefits lower income seniors, and repeal the Affordable Care Act’s supports currently allowing low and middle income Americans to get health insurance. These and other policies will undoubtedly impact millions of Americans living in or near poverty today."
At least one outside group thinks Ryan's budget is likely to harm poor people and the lower middle class. The left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found last week that 69 percent of the cuts in Ryan's budget would come from the lower end of the income spectrum.
Hoyer and Lee want more information on what those cuts would do to the people concerned.
"If possible, the report may include a projection of individual and family incomes that would decrease below the poverty threshold and increase above the poverty threshold as a result of policy changes proposed in Chairman Ryan’s budget resolution," they write. "At the same time, reduced investments in policies that help middle class families stay afloat could lead to an increase in the number of people who may need to rely on countercyclical safety net programs. Congress would benefit from an accounting of these costs when considering Chairman Ryan’s budget resolution."
It's not entirely clear that the CBO can do all the analysis the two lawmakers are asking for, but it can probably at least estimate the impacts of specific cuts. And at the very least, even a partial analysis would allow Democrats to focus again on the share of cuts targeted at the bottom of the economic ladder.
UPDATE: 6:15 p.m. -- Ryan's office takes issue with the way the CBPP ranks the budget's cuts. According to a breakdown done by GOP budget staff, the cuts are more in the nature of slowing growth, rather than actually reducing expenditures. The analysis says that under Ryan's plan, "spending will grow, on average, by 3.5 percent a year over the next decade [while] on the current path, it will grow by 5.2 percent."
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.