The Congressional Black Caucus got the meeting it wanted with House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, who met with the bulk of the caucus Wednesday in the wake of his “inner city” poverty comments.
CBC members had offered the invitation after voicing their offense to the comments Ryan made last month on Bill Bennett’s influential Morning in America radio show. He spoke of a “tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working, and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.” One member called it a “thinly-veiled racial attack.” Ryan later said he was “inarticulate” in making those comments.
Ryan thanked the CBC for inviting him to its meeting and called it the beginning of an ongoing conversation about poverty. “We had an engaging and productive discussion,” he said in a statement following the meeting.
“The first step to real reform is a frank conversation. We need to figure out what works; we need to learn from people who are fighting poverty on the front lines,” Ryan said. “And that conversation must go both ways. Simply defending the status quo or demanding more of the same is not an answer.”
Earlier in the day, Ryan held a hearing about the government’s antipoverty programs. He’s also been traveling the country on a “listening tour” as part of his interest in developing and promoting conservative solutions to poverty.
“We had a very respectful and cordial conversation,” CBC Chairwoman Marcia Fudge said. But they agreed on almost nothing, policy-wise. Ryan’s latest budget, opposed by CBC members, trims the budget by more than $5 trillion in cuts, and includes steep cuts to programs like Medicaid and food stamps.
“The only point of agreement that we really had is that we both believe we have unduly isolated the poor in this country and we need to find some policies that correct that situation,” Fudge said.
The group mostly discussed the ideological and policy differences they have on approaches to poverty. Ryan and the CBC members agreed to keep talking, but it’s unclear what format that conversation will take.
Ryan’s prior comments, which prompted the meeting in the first place, did come up Wednesday, Fudge said.
“I believe he phrased it in such a way that, sometimes people say things and they think they’re saying it in a certain way, and other people are hearing it differently,” Fudge said. “It wasn’t necessarily an apology but more to say, ‘Yes I know that I may have misspoke,’ or, ‘I may have been’ — in his words — ‘inarticulate.’”