• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
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

  • Crime

    Double stabbing suspect’s arraignment marked with profane outbursts

    by Sierra Starks on Apr 19, 16:40

    The man charged in connection with the Friday morning stabbing of his mother and father appeared in court today for his arraignment. “The thing of it is, you’re gonna let me f*cking go home today” — those were some of the first words out of 40-year-old Martin Victor IV’s mouth to the judge — followed by, ”Jesus […]

  • Politics

    Alaska Legislature confirms Craig Richards as attorney general

    by Rhonda McBride on Apr 19, 15:10

    One of Gov. Bill Walker’s most controversial appointments, Craig Richards, has been confirmed by the Legislature as attorney general. Thirty-one votes are required for confirmation. Richards was confirmed 36-23 in a joint session of the Legislature, which got underway at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. There was speculation Richards might not be confirmed, because the Republican Majority […]

  • News

    In Bethel, Cama’i a celebration of culture, community

    by Heather Hintze on Apr 19, 15:05

    The rhythmic dancing welcomed people into the gym at the Bethel High School for Cama’i – a Yup’ik word meaning “warm, friendly hello.” “Native dancing is a big part of our people,” said event M.C. Peter Atchak. “We’ve always had that. It’s not going to stop.” The festival brings in dance groups not only from around […]

  • Politics

    Alaska lawmakers approve new marijuana control board

    by Associated Press on Apr 19, 14:46

    Alaska lawmakers have approved creation of a marijuana board to write regulations for the new industry. The state Senate on Saturday voted in favor of the bill proposed by Gov. Bill Walker to create a new marijuana control board, and the House on Sunday agreed with the version of the bill passed in the Senate. […]

  • Politics

    Medicaid expansion and reform likely taken up in special session

    by Rhonda McBride on Apr 19, 14:05

    It’s Day 90 of the legislative session, with work on capital and operating budgets still underway. House and Senate Majority leaders say there isn’t time to give the governor’s bill on Medicaid expansion and reform its due. On Saturday, Gov. Bill Walker said he was preparing for a special session and would soon be talking […]

  • Crime

    2 arrested in connection with at least 6 Mat-Su residential burglaries/thefts

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Apr 19, 13:04

    Troopers have arrested two people who they say are responsible for at least six residential burglaries/thefts in the Mat-Su Valley area. In March, the Alaska State Troopers’ Criminal Suppression Unit executed a search warrant at a residence and a storage unit in Wasilla. During the investigation, several hundred stolen items were recovered, according to an online AST […]

  • Sports

    NYO Games end with high school record

    by KTVA Sports on Apr 19, 11:35

    SigFurd Dock from the Lower Kuskokwim School District recorded a high school record of 188 feet in the Seal Hop event Saturday night as the Native Youth Olympic Games came to a close. It was the only record set all weekend, following a 2014 year that saw two world (Autumn Ridley – Alaskan High Kick, Steven […]

  • Crime

    Suspected Juneau bank robber nabbed as he tried to leave city

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Apr 19, 11:11

    The man suspected of robbing a bank in Juneau was arrested as he tried to fly out of the city, police say. On Friday at about 11:15 a.m., the Juneau Police Department received reports from the Northrim Bank, located in the 8700 block of Glacier Highway, that a robbery had just taken place. Investigation revealed […]