Republicans Broaden Middle Class Appeal

Thursday, 30 Jan 2014 11:30 AM

By Melanie Batley

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Republicans lawmakers are developing a new strategy to introduce policies that will specifically appeal to the middle class, in an effort to decontaminate the party brand and win over voters going into the 2014 midterm elections.

According to The Washington Post, the GOP is taking steps to overcome perceptions that it is unconcerned with the interests of the middle-class, a disadvantage, they believe, that has plagued the party at least since the 2012 presidential election.

Some think the problem could be exacerbated as the president pursues a more populist economic agenda as outlined in his State of the Union Address.

"We are going to have to offer an affirmative platform in areas from job training and education to entitlements and the social safety net to employment law and environmental regulation… instead of just acknowledging problems that liberals are talking about and then criticizing big-government responses," Oren Cass, former domestic policy director to the Romney campaign, told the Post.

The Post cites a number of examples of new ideas coming out of both chambers of Congress. Specifically, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan is calling on experts to help advise on new policies to help the poor. He is also supporting the introduction of government grants for businesses to train the workers they need.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, meanwhile, is promoting more competition in the public school system, including vouchers and charters for the poor. And Sen. Mike Lee has promoted an expansion of the child tax credit, while Sen. Marco Rubio has proposed extending a lucrative tax credit to childless adults.

The ideas, however, are still in an embryonic stage as the party struggles to develop policies that rival the popularity and simplicity of some of the Democrats' proposals, such as increasing the minimum wage, without violating conservative principles.

"It's very easy for a party that did well in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan to look at these problems and be caught in a sort of amber," Jim Pethokoukis, an American Enterprise Institute blogger and columnist, told the Post. "It's always January 1981. You've always just beat Jimmy Carter. Tax rates are 70 percent. Inflation is in double digits. That still hovers over the Republican Party."

The AEI has consulted with numerous Republican politicians about shifting the party's narrative to focus on rising income inequality and declining economic opportunity, according to the Post. One idea is to use the tax code to help promote the family, which economists say could go a long way toward improving the lives of low-income Americans.

Other experts advise the GOP to focus on solutions to long-term unemployment, though some conservatives are wary of abandoning the main elements of GOP orthodoxy such as smaller government, lower taxes, and a strong defense, the Post notes.

In response, Democrats are questioning the GOP's sincerity.

"I think it's largely messaging," Dean Baker, co-director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research, told the Post. "You can't talk about cutting important programs by huge amounts and think you can have an effective anti-poverty agenda."

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