• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
News Alert: Latest updates on McHugh Fire - Read More
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
4m 15s

Deep divides split Washington over how to combat poverty

By Rebecca Kaplan / CBS News 11:52 AM January 8, 2014

As political divisions between the two parties have deepened in recent years, so have the differences between their fiscal philosophies.

Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson first declared “War on Poverty,” lawmakers are still looking for ways to root it out of society. In 2014, it stands to be a central issue as Democrats shape their legislative and campaign agendas around issues like unemployment benefits and a minimum wage increase. But there are Republicans looking get in on the action as well.

As political divisions between the two parties have deepened in recent years, so have the differences between their fiscal philosophies. The debate over whether to extend emergency unemployment benefits is a microcosm of this larger divide as Democrats call for an unconditional extension of benefits and Republicans seek to offset the cost and add additional job-creation measures. Many of the 2014 debates may well center around who is doing more to help low-income and middle-class Americans.

Johnson declared a “War on Poverty” in his 1964 State of the Union address in an effort to reduce the 19 percent poverty rate in the United States. His Great Society legislation, a continuation of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, helped launch Medicare and Medicaid, expanded the federal food stamp program and funding for education, and launched a slew of volunteer programs. The success of the program is a mixed bag: the poverty rate has fallen just four points, from 19 percent to 15 percent, but many argue that Johnson’s programs made a major improvement for the standard of living for the poorest Americans and prevented the poverty rate from climbing higher.

President Obama and congressional Democrats have both pointed to issues of economic equality as a central focus of the next year. “We have a situation in America today that is really not good. The last 30 years, the top one percent of Americans, and their income and wealth has increased three hundred percent. The middle class during that same thirty years has lost almost ten percent. We’ve got to turn this around,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday. “I have nothing against rich people. But the rich are getting richer. The poor are getting poorer. The middle class are being squeezed out of existence.”

His tone echoes that of Mr. Obama, who gave a speech in December calling the combination of growing income inequality and a lack of upward mobility as “the defining challenge of our time.” The speech was light on specific policy prescriptions, but the issue is expected to be a central focus of his Jan. 28 State of the Union address.  During the coming year, Democrats will likely push for issues like a minimum wage increase, universal pre-kindergarten, and closing tax loopholes and deductions that benefit the wealthy. 

On the Republican side, a handful of lawmakers in particular are seeking to become champions on the issue of poverty. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. – who Democrats accuse of targeting the poor and seniors with his tax-cutting, entitlement-reforming budgets – is seeking to model himself after mentor and 1996 Republican vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp. He has taken to quietly visiting inner-city neighborhoods to discuss the issue, and delivered a speech near the end of his run as the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee where he said the government’s “centralized, bureaucratic, top-down anti-poverty programs” have failed.

“In this war on poverty, poverty is winning,” he said during the speech, in which he encouraged people to measure success in fighting poverty by outcomes rather than dollars spent. Ryan will mark the anniversary of Johnson’s speech in an interview about poverty with NBC’s Brian Williams on Thursday.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the child of Cuban immigrants, has spoken frequentlyin about the increasing difficulty in achieving the American dream and called for a variety of measures to increase opportunity like education reform. Over the weekend, he released a video pledging to release an agenda for the country that would create a “new opportunity society in America” that will reduce government deficits and give people the skills they need to succeed though measures like repealing and replacing Obamacare and strengthening retirement programs.

“After 50 years, isn’t it time to declare big government’s war on poverty a failure?” he asks.

Rubio and Ryan aren’t the only two. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., used a recent speech in Detroit to advocate for the idea of “economic freedom zones” in the bankrupt city by lowering taxes and encouraging immigration. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, spoke at the Heritage Foundation in November and encouraged his fellow conservatives to take a leading role in reforming government anti-poverty efforts by doing a better job of directing federal funds to those in need and reforming education, the criminal justice system, taxes, and regulations, among other things. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has fashioned himself the GOP’s champion of education reform.

It remains to be seen who will claim Johnson’s legacy – or achieve far more than he could. His daughter, Lynda Johnson Robb, will attend a ceremony at the Capitol Wednesday marking the 50th anniversary of his speech, hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus.

© 2014 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Latest Stories

  • News

    Hiker missing in Denali National Park found after search

    by Associated Press on Jul 25, 7:29

    A missing hiker has been found in good condition after a two-day search at Denali National Park and Preserve. A helicopter crew spotted the 42-year-old hiker Sunday night about six miles from where he was last seen Friday. Park officials identified him as Mukunda Egen from California, who is seasonally employed in the area. No […]

  • Weather

    Officials warn ‘imminent’ flooding may occur after steady rain along Matanuska River

    by KTVA 11 News on Jul 25, 6:14

    After three days of rainfall along the Matanuska River, emergency officials are preparing for “imminent” flooding. Portions of the bank began to show signs of breeching Sunday between the Maude Road Extension and Mile 15 and Mile 13 of the Old Glenn Highway, according to a release from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Department of Emergency Services. There is no […]

  • Crime

    Caught on video: Driver rams SUV with toddler inside

    by Eric Ruble on Jul 24, 23:07

    An Anchorage couple is asking for help identifying the driver of a blue Ford F-150 after being chased and rammed repeatedly by the unknown vehicle Friday evening. Cell phone video making rounds on social media this weekend shows couple’s view from inside their sport utility vehicle as it was hit repeatedly by the pickup truck. Grace […]

  • News

    Aussies won’t move to Rio village yet; power, plumbing fears

    by Stephen Wade / AP Sports Writer on Jul 24, 17:52

    RIO DE JANEIRO — Australia’s Olympic team leader is keeping the delegation’s 700 athletes or staff out of the Athletes Village for at least two days, citing electrical and plumbing problems in the sprawling complex less than two weeks before the start of the games in Rio de Janeiro. “Electricity and water is not a […]

  • News

    AST: Man’s body found floating near Ketchikan

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Jul 24, 16:44

    An unidentified man’s body was found floating in the Tongass Narrows near Ketchikan Saturday evening, according to Alaska State Troopers. Troopers responded to the 4700 block of the North Tongass Highway around 6:45 p.m. after receiving a report of a body. The man’s body was brought to shore shortly after that, according to an online trooper […]

  • News

    Police: Man, likely attacker, dies in explosion in Germany

    by Associated Press on Jul 24, 16:31

    Police in the southern German city of Ansbach say a man was killed when an explosive device he was believed to be carrying went off near an open-air music festival, injuring 10 people. Ansbach police said in a statement early Monday that just after 10 p.m. Sunday they were alerted to an explosion in the […]

  • Crime

    Woman wanted on felony warrant following early morning fight involving multiple people

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Jul 24, 14:53

    The Anchorage Police Department is actively searching for a woman for whom they’ve obtained a felony warrant following a fight involving multiple suspects on Russian Jack Drive. Multiple people called APD around 4:19 a.m. to report a fight on the 1600 block of Russian Jack Drive. When police arrived, they spoke with a woman who […]

  • News

    Search underway for California man missing in Denali National Park

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Jul 24, 14:44

    About 40 people are helping the search for Mukunda Egen, a 42-year-old California man who was last seen on Friday night while hiking in Denali National Park and Preserve. Egen and a friend set up a campsite at the Teklanika Campground and decided to hike from that area Friday afternoon, according to a statement from […]