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Paul Ryan tries to ease tensions with black lawmakers on poverty

Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) (C) talks to reporters as he departs a Republican House caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington April 2
Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) (C) talks to reporters as he departs a Republican House caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington April 2

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Representative Paul Ryan, who angered black lawmakers in March with his comments about the causes of inner-city poverty, met with the Congressional Black Caucus on Wednesday and pledged to study its proposal to help the poor.

"We didn't get a whole lot accomplished, but we do agree on a number of things," said Representative Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat who chairs the caucus. "One is that we are both concerned about the poverty in this country. We just disagree on how we address the problem."

Ryan, the influential House of Representatives Budget Committee chairman, said the meeting improved the "tone" of the poverty debate, if not the best way to tackle it.

"What is good out of this is we need to talk about better ideas on getting at the root cause of poverty, to try and break the cycle of poverty," said the Wisconsin Republican and 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee. "The status quo doesn't work. We can do better."

Ryan and caucus members said after the meeting they intended to continue their dialogue on the subject.

Congressional Black Caucus members said Ryan did not directly address his remarks from March when he said there was 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 of work."

Fudge at the time called the remarks "highly offensive," and California Democratic Representative Barbara Lee branded them a "thinly veiled racial attack" in which "inner-city" was a code-word for "black."

Ryan, who is frequently mentioned as a potential candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, made his original remarks on a talk-radio show, and said later he had been "inarticulate."

Ryan's most recent budget plan, passed with only House Republican votes earlier this month, proposes deep cuts to domestic safety-net programs, including many that aid the poor, in order to eliminate deficits within 10 years.

Ryan, who has tried to fashion himself as a Republican who wants to improve private-sector opportunities for the poor, argues that many government programs created over the past 50 years are ineffective in breaking the cycle of poverty.

Instead, his budget plan relies heavily on the promise of economic growth spurred by tax reforms to lift people into the middle class - a theory derided by Democrats as ineffective, "trickle-down" economics.

He agreed to study a Congressional Black Caucus proposal known as "10-20-30," which would concentrate 10 percent of funding from certain domestic programs into 474 counties - urban and rural - where 20 percent of the population has lived in poverty for 30 years.

Some members of the caucus said they appreciated Ryan's gesture but remained skeptical because of his budget cuts.

"I think Ryan is sincere. I don't know that he's serious about addressing the issue," said Representative James Rayburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House. "If he stands by his (budget) resolution, then he cannot be serious about the discussion we had today."

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Peter Cooney and Prudence Crowther)

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