Paul Ryan welcomes Pope's welfare debate

February 2, 2014: 4:53 PM ET
paul ryan
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Rep. Paul Ryan said Sunday he doesn't expect the Pope to agree with him about the role of government in addressing social mobility.

But he does welcome Pope Francis' contribution to the U.S. debate on wealth and poverty.

Ryan, a Catholic, has for several years written the House Republican budget proposals, which he says will ensure the long-term viability of the social safety net. He doesn't, however, expect the Pope to endorse his specific policies.

"He's a Pope. Popes don't endorse budgets," Ryan said on ABC's "This Week."

Ryan's split assessment of the Pope comes as political figures adapt to Pope Francis' spot on the political spectrum.

Many Democrats see Francis as aligned with them on social and economic issues, especially in his criticism of "trickle-down economics" and his characterization of an "impersonal economy."

President Obama, for one, said in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper this week that he has "been really impressed so far" with the Pope's "regard for those who are less fortunate."

Related: Obama's economy in 17 charts

Ryan has discredited the pontiff's critique of capitalism by saying the Pope doesn't understand the concept. He stood by that on Sunday.

"I think they have crony capitalism in Argentina where you have real exploitation," Ryan said. "That is not the free market."

But Ryan said he was "excited" that Francis was talking about social justice issues.

"He's not settling a debate, he's inviting the debate and he's asking lay Catholics to say how we would actually tackle these problems and bring the poor in, stop isolating the poor," Ryan said. "If you look at his comments very closely, he always talks about the welfare mentality, he always talks about the welfare state and how we have to avoid creating a welfare state."

Related: How income inequality hurts the U.S.

Reception of Ryan's budgets split along partisan lines. Republicans say his reforms to the social safety net would strengthen it, while Democrats say his cuts would hurt recipients of Medicaid and food stamps.

Although the Pope is said to be considering a visit to the U.S. in 2015, it seems unlikely he would directly enter the U.S. political fray.

"Popes say, 'Let's have a conversation about how to fix the broken status quo, how to bring the poor in, how to not have a welfare state and how to produce upward mobility," Ryan said. "Popes don't endorse actual legislative changes or budgets like that."

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