WASHINGTON — With the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” as a backdrop, Sen. Marco Rubio on Wednesday will join a growing chorus of Republicans looking to put a conservative brand on help for the poor with his own call for a major overhaul of the nation’s anti-poverty programs.
“The biggest problem we face is not the difference in income between the richest and the poorest Americans, the biggest problem is that too many of those making low incomes are not moving up to better and higher-paying jobs,” an advance text of Rubio’s speech says.
Florida Republican Rubio, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, is one of several high-profile Republicans who are pushing their party to re-engage in the debate over income inequality, an issue largely ceded to Democrats over the years, and one likely to be part of the 2014 congressional elections.
With unemployment at 7 percent, millions of voting-age Americans scouring for jobs and wages largely stagnant, both parties are eager to show that they’re siding with Americans who are struggling economically. To accomplish this, some Republicans have traveled to unfamiliar territory.
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Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., another potential presidential contender, went to heavily Democratic Detroit last month to pitch his solution to income inequality: “Economic Freedom Zones” that would lower income and corporate tax rates to a flat 5 percent in areas with unemployment rates greater than the national average.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the chairman of the House Budget Committee and Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012, is expected to discuss poverty in an interview Thursday with NBC’s Brian Williams.
An aide said Rubio would propose giving the states more power to administer anti-poverty programs, similar to the way the Bill Clinton-era welfare overhaul shifted responsibilities to states through block-grant programs.
Democrats from newly minted New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to President Obama have set their sights on raising the minimum wage as a way to even out income disparities.
“Income inequality is a hot topic because it doesn’t mean the same thing to everybody, so it can be anything you want it to be,” said Stan Collender, a veteran budget analyst. “It’s easy to talk about. It’s not an easy issue to solve.”