Building on earlier comments by the President, on Wednesday, December 6, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WS) said,

We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit.”

The irony of the remarks appears to be missed by many congressional leaders who are drafting a tax package under legislative reconciliation rules that is intended to increase deficits by $1.5 trillion over ten years.  Ryan went on to say, 

“We have a welfare system that’s trapping people in poverty and effectively paying people not to work.  We’ve got to work on that.”  The Speaker also targeted health care, “Frankly it’s the health-care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health care entitlements—because that’s really where the problem lies fiscally speaking.”

What could these “welfare reforms” look like based on recent budget proposals and past proposals by the Speaker:

  • Advocates in Washington feel there will be strong focus on the SNAP (food stamps) programs focused on cuts and work requirements;
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for children which could be carved out from the larger program and converted into a fixed state block grant or perhaps cuts imposed in other ways;
  • Medicaid which likely would revisit the per capita cap block grant that was included in various ACA repeal bills;
  • ACA repeal, there will be likely be another attempt to repeal the ACA even if the individual mandate is repealed as part of the tax cut package as it likely will;
  • Medicare, if leadership is bold they may attempt to look at the earlier Ryan proposal that would raise the age of eligibility to 67 for future Medicare recipients and convert the rest of the program into a voucher or optional voucher that would give patients funds to buy their own insurance;
  • SSBG elimination, under Speaker Ryan’s leadership, previous votes have been cast to eliminate SSBG and the $1.7 billion;
  • TANF cuts, as included in the FY 2018 Administration budget, along with the elimination of SSBG the Administration cut TANF by the amount states had transferred from TANF into SSBG, more than $1 billion;
  • Child welfare optional block grant; by making it “optional” it makes the cuts sound less onerous. Many states would exchange the lack of future funding increases for the increased flexibility today.

Such a change might be forestalled if Congress includes some version of the Families First bill in an end-of-the year mega package of fixes.  On the other hand, Title IV-E was created in 1980 under President Jimmy Carter but it was converted into a child welfare block grant the following year in 1981 by the Senate.  Eventually that effort resulted in the block grant of social services funding into the $2.4 billion SSBG.