Congressional Republicans are beginning a high-profile push to overhaul "big government" programs for the poor that fail to offer struggling Americans a way out of poverty, two reports said Wednesday.
"Five decades and trillions of dollars after President [Lyndon B.] Johnson waged his war on poverty, the results of this big-government approach are in," Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in a speech delivered from the ornate room in the Capitol named for Johnson, The Hill reported.
"We have 4 million Americans who have been out of work for six months or more. We have a staggering 49 million Americans living below the poverty line, and over twice that number — over 100 million people — who get some form of food aid from the federal government," Rubio said.
In an interview with The New York Times,
Rubio said current poverty programs "help deal with the pain of poverty" but "don’t deal with the structural problems."
"I just think [Democrats' and President Barack Obama's] thinking on this is stale and old and doesn't really address the magnitude of the problem," he said.
Republicans will make the case that the still-sluggish U.S. economy and the struggles working Americans continue to face prove Democratic initiatives have failed, he said.
"The president has defined poverty and income inequality as the defining issue of our time, and his solution is to raise taxes on wealthy Americans and raise the minimum wage to $10.10" an hour, Rubio told The Times. "That's not a solution; $10.10 is not the American dream. I want them making $50."
The Hill noted that members of the conservative Republican Study Committee in the House said the government needed to focus on policies to create more jobs — not social welfare programs.
"This administration has no real focus on job creation,"said Michigan Republican Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. "It really is focused on how long checks are being received."
Camp favors reforming the unemployment insurance program, including giving states more flexibility in implementing the program.
"I think the program as is should not be continued," he said.
Oklahoma Republican Rep. James Lankford, chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, thinks dozens of federal anti-poverty programs ought to be reviewed.
"We're a great nation, and were a compassionate nation that has a safety net," Lankford said, according to The Hill. "But we must evaluate all of our programs and what we're doing to help those in poverty, not by how many are enrolled but by how many graduate."
The Times reported that Republican lawmakers will be proposing more market-based solutions to the issue in the coming weeks, including work requirements to safety-net programs; streamlining federal offices; improving training and education initiatives, and offering tax breaks to the needy.
For example, Rubio told The Times, it should be easier for adults to go back to school and learn vocational skills, and he would like to see "alternate accreditation routes" to a bachelor's degree from a four-year college.
"For a lot of people, that's just unattainable," he told The Times.
"They're working full-time; they have a family. An alternate would be programs that exist already that combine work experience, internships online, and course work into an alternative that employers will accept, as well as something that's just as good."
Sen. Mike Lee of Utah may introduce legislation to give states more control of Medicaid funds — and possibly even Head Start programs, The Times reported. He also plans to introduce a bill next month to streamline existing antipoverty programs, he told The Times.
"There is no reason we ought to have 79 means-tested federal government programs," Lee told The Times.
"There's also not a good policy reason to reward states for higher spending instead of improved results. I think one of our very first priorities has to be to get our existing federal programs under control."
Lee noted the GOP hasn't always made a strong case with struggling Americans.
"There's . . . a recognition among a lot of Republicans that we have not done a good job messaging conservatism, messaging the fact that we are conservatives not in spite of our concern for the poor but because of it," Lee told The Times.
At the Brookings Institution on Wednesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia focused on the movement for greater school choice as "the surest way" to end the cycle of poverty.
"The fact is, the federal government's approach to fixing our schools has been too slow, too sporadic, and too ineffective,"Cantor said, calling for an expansion of charter schools and voucher programs, The Hill reported.
"And while we wait, we are losing generations of kids."
Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, meanwhile — described by The Times as a legislator at the forefront of the GOP push on poverty programs — will outline his vision on Thursday during a televised NBC News panel at the Newseum in Washington, The Hill reported.
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