The GOP’s Talking Points On Poverty

Philip Rucker and Robert Costa report that “there is deep disagreement among Republican leaders and strategists over whether to embrace an economic-mobility agenda in the 2014 midterm campaigns.” But some prominent Republicans are beginning to address the issue:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will give a speech Wednesday that aides said will lay out changes to federal programs to help people climb out of poverty permanently. In the weeks to come, Rubio also plans to introduce ideas to make it easier for mid-career adults to go back to college or learn new job skills at vocational schools. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the 2012 vice-presidential nominee, has been traveling to impoverished areas and meeting with community organizers. He plans to address poverty in an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams on Thursday.

A third potential GOP presidential candidate, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), is also putting a renewed emphasis on the poor, traveling to Detroit to pitch a plan to revitalize urban centers through “economic freedom zones.” Paul has given his message on income inequality an ideological edge — mixing lofty, empathetic language with anti-government broadsides. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who has been visiting urban schools, will give a speech Wednesday promoting school choice as a way to address poverty. And Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has proposed increasing the child tax credit as a means of blending social conservatism with anti-poverty policies.

York advises the GOP against “a high-profile Republican campaign on poverty — a campaign launched without the party’s internal agreement on a specific anti-poverty agenda”:

Contrary to critics on the left, there’s little doubt that for many Republicans, the initiative is heartfelt. But going forward without a plan leaves the GOP open to the critique that it’s all talk. And even if it were all talk, the new strategy ignores the (at least rhetorical) lesson of the Democrats’ recent successes: When it comes to winning votes, it’s all about the middle class.

Barro reviews the Republicans’ anti-poverty ideas, or the lack thereof:

The Republican theory seems to be that if the government “just got out of the way” by cutting taxes, spending and regulation, then labor market would magically tighten, people would get jobs, and wages would rise. Empirical evidence for this proposition is lacking. … On the long-run side, Republican policies are again nominally aimed at raising long-run GDP growth. They do not address the question of how the returns from such growth are distributed. They don’t necessarily promote a tighter labor market or stronger wage growth. Even if that agenda is a growth agenda (dubious) that doesn’t make it an agenda that is effective at growing low or moderate market incomes.

Alec MacGillis piles on:

Saying that the Republicans lack an agenda to address poverty does not necessarily mean that they need to endorse every Democratic proposal—even back in the heyday of the George Romney moderates, Republicans opposed some New Deal and Great Society measures as too top-down or unwieldy or big-government. But, unlike today, they proposed real alternatives. If Republicans today believe that raising the minimum wage is too much of a burden on small business, they could pass a major expansion of the earned-income tax credit, as conservative economist Greg Mankiw suggests. If they believe that extended unemployment benefits are discouraging some workers from taking available jobs, they could seek to more narrowly target extended benefits to make sure they’re available to those who the data shows have the cards most stacked against them—say, by age or location. If they believe the food stamp program and other elements of the War on Poverty really have failed—despite ample evidence to the contrary—they can go back to the Nixon or Romney toolbox of the ‘60s and early ‘70s for the approaches they think may have worked better.

But aside from the occasional highly touted speeches by a senator here or there, there are no active efforts along these lines …

Sargent thinks the GOP must respond to these issues eventually:

Democrats are going to do everything they can to shift the Obamacare debate into a broader economic context on their own terms — highlighting stories of Americans being helped by the law, arguing that Republicans would take away its benefits and protections, and tying it to broader GOP resistance to policies that would help struggling Americans, such as the minimum wage hike and unemployment extension. Tying Obamacare to this broader debate will be a major goal in Obama’s upcoming State of the Union Speech, which might get a bit of media attention. Also, it isn’t as if Republicans can avoid having a poverty agenda. Soon enough, they’ll have to decide whether to kill the extension of unemployment benefits and block the minimum wage hike. These votes will happen, whether or not Republicans roll out a broader agenda.