Senator Marco Rubio of Florida speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., March 14, 2013.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

GOP declares war on ‘war on poverty’


As the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of a “war on poverty” nears, Sen. Marco Rubio has declared his own war on what he calls the “big government” approach to dealing with poverty. 

“After 50 years isn’t it time to declare big government’s war on poverty a failure?” Rubio asked in a web video released this weekend. “Instead of continuing to borrow and spend trillions of dollars on government programs that don’t work, what our country needs is a real agenda that helps people acquire the skills they need to lift themselves out of poverty and to pursue the American dream.”

Rubio’s far from the first to declare the war a failure. President Ronald Reagan who declared during his presidency that “poverty won the war.”

As he and his Republicans colleagues prepare for the 2014 election, Rubio’s Reaganesque rhetoric still lacks specificity. The details of his conservative solution to the poverty problem only specifically mention repealing the Affordable Care Act and helping people “acquire the skills they need to lift themselves out of poverty,” but Rubio said he’ll explain more about that “in the coming months.”

Rubio’s Senate colleague Rand Paul revealed some of his own ideas in Detroit last month, proposing policies to create “economic freedom zones” to help address poverty in communities struggling like Detroit. His proposal includes offering relief on income, payroll, and capital gains taxes, to help spur business investment.

Rubio also joins the likes of Rep. Paul Ryan in a growing Republican focus on poverty issues. Ryan has revealed he’s also hunting for conservative style proposals that could help serve America’s neediest, with some of his supporters throwing the title of “champion of the poor” at him.

For the most part, Republicans are steering clear of a bi-partisan approach to the issue now. Nevada Republican Dean Heller is currently the only senator planning to support an extension of unemployment benefits Democrats are pushing with a vote expected Monday afternoon. The Congressional Budget Office found that an extension of those benefits could increase job growth in 2014 by 200,000, but House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has yet to signal that he’ll allow a vote on the extension, potentially leaving more than a million unemployed Americans in the lurch. 

A proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour – which could help lift from 5 million out of poverty according to a study released last week – has scant support from Republicans either.