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As the congressional budget conference committee struggles to make any progress toward crafting a deal that would fund the government through at least 2014, one thing is clear. The committee’s Republicans, led by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), are negotiating with the same goal that they’ve pursued since winning the House majority in 2010: dramatically reducing the national debt without raising a single penny in new tax revenue. That leaves them with one option: deep spending cuts.

“We’ve got to get a handle on our debt—now. And from my perspective, taking more from hardworking families just isn’t the answer,” Ryan declared at the outset of the committee. “So I want to say this from the get-go: If this conference becomes an argument about taxes, we’re not going to get anywhere.”

If Ryan is truly interested in protecting hardworking families, however, he needs to abandon the priorities that have driven his previous budget proposals. As the Economic Policy Institute illustrates, Social Security, the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, housing subsidies — and many other items on the long list of safety net programs that Ryan has targeted for steep cuts in the past — kept millions of Americans out of poverty in 2012.

EPI Chart

Specifically, based on the Census Bureau’s annual report of the Supplemental Poverty Measure, Social Security kept 26.4 million Americans out of poverty last year. Tax credits such as the ETIC protected 9.3 million. SNAP helped 5 million avoid poverty. And the list goes on.

If Congressman Ryan is serious about fighting poverty “with kinder, gentler policies to encourage work and upward mobility,” then his first step should be abandoning his no-new-taxes dogma, and rededicating himself to protecting these programs that are helping working people keep their heads above water.

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