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With Anti-Poverty Plan, Ryan And House GOP Launch 2016 Campaign Agenda

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
J. Scott Applewhite
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

House Republicans kick off Tuesday a three-week roll out of a policy agenda that Speaker Paul Ryan says will outline what the party will do if they win the White House this November.

The agenda, dubbed "A Better Way," is Ryan's brainchild, a project that he negotiated as part of the deal that elevated him to House speaker last fall.

"When I took this job back in October, one of the conditions in taking this job was that we put on paper what we stand for as Republicans," Ryan told reporters recently. "We cannot simply be viewed as a reactionary opposition party. We have to been seen as the alternative, proposition party."

The challenge for Ryan and House Republicans is whether any part of the forthcoming agenda will break through to voters. The election year has been dominated by presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump and his often controversial statements and policy proposals.

The agenda rollout comes a week after Ryan's tepid endorsement of Trump. The Wisconsin Republican says he is working to unify what he describes as the "Ryan Wing" of the GOP with the "Trump Wing."

Trump, in turn, has said kind things about the speaker recently — but has not committed to embracing any of the House GOP's specific policies.

"[Ryan] is a good man. He wants good things for the country," Trump told CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday. "We will agree on many things. We're not going to agree on all his things."

House Republicans will spend the next three weeks introducing a six-point agenda that will outline in broad strokes their proposals for jobs and the economy, taxes, health care, national security, constitutional authority, and poverty.

Notably absent from that agenda are trade and immigration — two issues that have dominated the party's 2016 presidential debates. House Republicans appear willing to let those issues be litigated in the presidential race.

Tackling poverty — a particular cause for the speaker — is the first issue up. Trump did cite combating poverty as an issue where he thinks he can work with the speaker.

"He wants to take people out of poverty; so do I," Trump said. "We're going to come up with a plan."

The kickoff will take place in Washington's Anacostia neighborhood, a historically black community with high poverty rates.

In response, top Democrats are taking part in a counterprogramming event on combating poverty at a left-leaning think tank, the Center for American Progress.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Monday said he was "bemused" by Republicans — who control both chambers of Congress — putting forward proposals instead of actual pieces of legislation.

"He's the speaker of the House — he doesn't just have to make policy proposals, he runs the House of Representatives," Earnest said, "Put it in a bill, put it on the floor, run it through a committee, have a debate. That's the whole reason you presumably ran for the job in the first place. Let's have that debate."

Ryan has told reporters that advancing a legislative agenda in the final months of the Obama White House would be a fruitless endeavor.

"This isn't a legislative agenda for 2016, because Barack Obama is president. That's not going anywhere. This is a legislative agenda for 2017 with a new president," Ryan said, "Our goal here isn't to draft bills and pass them and see them go nowhere."

In the next step of the rollout, Republicans on Thursday will outline their national security proposals.

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Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.