Rubio’s Anti-Poverty Plan

Alex Rogers summarizes it:

He outlined two major changes. One would move most of America’s existing federal anti-poverty funding into one single agency, which would administer a “revenue neutral flex fund” and dole out grants to states. The other major change would be to replace the earned income tax credit with a federal wage enhancement that would be “highly  targeted” to avoid fraud or abuse. Rubio also mentioned “bolstering” the nation’s existing job-training system and addressing the shortage in skilled labor through encouraging alternatives to the traditionally accredited college degree. Alex Conant, Rubio’s press secretary, said to expect legislation “sometime in the coming weeks,” but with a Senate Democratic majority, it’s highly unlikely that anything will come of it.

Drum has low expectations:

It’s a shame that Rubio is almost certainly not serious about genuinely fighting poverty. Because these aren’t impossible ideas.

The first one is basically the usual conservative dream of block granting everything and then dumping the whole load onto the states, something that liberals are quite reasonably skeptical about. After all, virtually every state controlled by Republicans is currently refusing to expand Medicaid coverage even though it’s nearly 100 percent paid for by the federal government. This gives everyone a pretty good idea of just how eager red states are to help the poor.

And that’s a shame, because Rubio is right when he says that state experimentation, a la welfare reform in the early 90s, could be pretty valuable. If states were truly serious about finding answers, and if each of the various state policies were rigorously studied, it could provide some genuine insights into how best to fight poverty. But what are the odds of that?

Yuval Levin likes the policies Rubio touted. A caveat:

We shouldn’t overestimate the potential of state experimentation. States are laboratories of corruption and waste as much as they are laboratories of innovation and creative policymaking. But the substantive argument for federalism or subsidiarity is particularly strong in the case of helping the poor.

Allahpundit wonders whether the Rubio should focus instead on the middle class:

In a sense, this is the perfect topic for him. His message since day one has been full-throated celebration of the American dream, using himself as Exhibit A in what a man from a humble background can achieve here. An obvious corollary to that is how to extend the dream to those whose background is way south of humble, and the corollary becomes even more obvious on the 50th anniversary of LBJ declaring a war on poverty. In another sense, though, this is an odd subject for the GOP generally and Rubio specifically to be tackling. Like Byron York says, the party’s big headache, and big opportunity, is with the middle class. All the anti-poverty speeches in the world aren’t going to convince impoverished voters that the GOP will be better for them than welfare-state Democrats will.

Douthat sees that as a false choice:

If you were to build a rhetorical frame around some of the better policy ideas floating around on the right-of-center these days — from Mike Lee’s family-friendly tax plan to the James Capretta Obamacare alternative to the kind of unemployment-fighting agenda A.E.I.’s Michael Strain outlines in the latest issue of National Affairs — it probably wouldn’t be neatly divided into a “message on poverty” and a “message for the middle class.” Instead, it would talk about how this new right-of-center agenda would offer the same kind of thing to Americans below the poverty line as it does to Americans anxiously holding on to their place in the middle class: Not a conservatism of “compassion” (that Bush-era frame was always a mistake, even when the substance was decent), but a conservatism of respect, in which benefits and tax credits are tied to effort, responsibility, family, work, in ways that apply up and down the income ladder.

Cohn’s bottom line:

There are plenty of reasons to be cynical about Rubio’s motives. And who knows what his actual legislation will include when, and if, he ever introduces it. But on Wednesday, Rubio engaged in a conversation Republicans have shunned for too long. That’s progress.