Sen. Marco Rubio said on Wednesday that the states, not the federal government, should lead the failed "war on poverty" after five decades because "Washington is too bureaucratic and resistant to change."
"The one-size-fits-all approach to policy is not conducive to solving a problem as diverse as this one," the Florida Republican said in a speech in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Room at the Capitol in Washington.
"The only solution that will achieve meaningful and lasting results is to provide those who are stuck in low-paying jobs the real opportunity to move up to better-paying jobs.
"And to do this, we must focus on policies that help our economy create those jobs and that help people overcome the obstacles between them and better-paying work," Rubio said. "The war on poverty accomplished neither of these things."
Rubio's speech occurred on the 50th anniversary of President Johnson's 1964 State of the Union address, in which he declared an "unconditional war on poverty in America."
Rubio was not the only Republican to speak on the federal government's ineffectiveness in eliminating poverty in the United States. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told Newsmax TV on Wednesday that liberal approaches to battling poverty had failed and that Republicans would be more effective in the effort.
"When [Republicans] followed principles of hard work, low taxes, limited regulation, encouraging small business, encouraging people to learn and to get a job, it's worked dramatically," Gingrich, the 2012 presidential candidate, told Newsmax in an exclusive interview
"During the years that the Republicans were actively involved, when I first became speaker, we worked on things like welfare reform, capital-gains tax cuts, economic growth," Gingrich continued. "We actually had 5.5 million people leave poverty in that period, while under Obama, 3 million additional people moved into poverty.
"So, what we learned is that big government can't solve the problem of poverty because it has exactly the wrong tools and exactly the wrong principles."
Introduced by Johnson in his speech on Jan. 8, 1964, the "war on poverty" consisted of legislation that sought to combat a national poverty rate of almost 19 percent. The main legislation was the Economic Opportunity Act, which established a federal office to oversee the local application of government funds to combat poverty.
The effort also led to an expanded federal role in healthcare, housing, and education. Among the federal programs started under Johnson's effort included Head Start, Job Corps, and Volunteers in Service to America.
But these programs have not eliminated poverty in the United States, Rubio said.
"We are still a country where hard work and perseverance can earn you a better life. The vast majority of Americans today live lives much better than their parents.
"Yet we are rightfully troubled that many of our people are still caught in what seems to be a pervasive, unending financial struggle," Rubio said. "It bothers us because we are a people united by the belief that every American deserves an equal opportunity to achieve success.
"America is still the land of opportunity for most, but it is not a land of opportunity for all. If we are to remain an exceptional nation, we must close this gap in opportunity."
Closing the gap can best be done by the states, Rubio said.
"I know from my time in the Florida Legislature that if states were given the flexibility, they would design and pursue innovative and effective ways to help those trapped in poverty," he said. "As we've seen, they could put in place programs that give those currently stuck in low-wage jobs access to a job-training system.
"We should pursue reforms that encourage and reward work," he said.
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