• 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

  • News

    APD: Man with gun apprehended outside West High

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Oct 13, 8:32

    Anchorage police say a reportedly armed man was apprehended outside West High School Tuesday morning. “Man reported outside of West High armed with gun, police have apprehended him,” the Anchorage Police Department said in an alert around 8:15 a.m. APD spokesperson Anita Shell said the incident was reported at 7:58 a.m. and that the man […]

  • News

    Fish & Game reminds drivers to slow down for moose

    by Bonney Bowman on Oct 13, 7:55

    After two people died in crashes with moose this weekend, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is asking drivers to slow down. One crash happened early Saturday on De Armoun Road. The other was early Sunday on Minnesota Drive. Both drivers and the moose involved died. Fish and Game says they see an uptick in crashes this […]

  • Sports

    Home, not-so-sweet home

    by Dave Goldman on Oct 12, 23:53

    When is home game not a home game? When it’s West at East and West is at home. Got it? It began a couple of weeks ago when the East High School football team clinched the Cook Inlet Conference regular season title. That affords them home team status throughout the playoffs, even when a game is played on a neutral […]

  • News

    Suicide awareness discussion follows cluster of suicides in Hooper Bay

    by Daniella Rivera on Oct 12, 23:10

    It’s not an easy thing to talk about, but prevention advocates say if Alaskans don’t discuss suicide, the already high rate will continue to climb. Alaska has the second highest suicide rate per capita in the nation. Recently, there were four in Hooper Bay in just 16 days. And the problem isn’t just in rural […]

  • News

    Fire official: 2 firefighters killed, 2 hurt in Kansas City

    by Associated Press on Oct 12, 20:55

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A Kansas City Fire Department official says two firefighters were killed and two were injured when a burning building collapsed. Fire Department Battalion Chief James Garrett tells the Kansas City Star crews were dispatched to a building on the northeast side of town around 7:30 p.m. Monday. He says firefighters found the […]

  • News

    New robot camera can ‘see’ under water

    by Lauren Maxwell on Oct 12, 20:00

    Alaska State Troopers are excited about a new tool that can help them with rescue and recovery underwater. Troopers and Village Public Safety Officers are training with a submersible robotic camera that uses sonar to find objects or bodies underwater. Troopers said it would come in handy in places where divers aren’t available to search […]

  • News

    City considers new housing options for homeless

    by Lauren Maxwell on Oct 12, 19:37

    Anchorage is hosting the annual conference of the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness this week. Mayor Ethan Berkowitz spoke Monday morning, telling the crowd that ending homelessness in Anchorage is a top priority for his administration. Nancy Burke, Anchorage’s Homelessness Coordinator, said the city favors a “housing first” model, which she said could take […]

  • News

    EY2015: ‘Not in our Smokehouse’ theme hits home for youth keynote speaker

    by Heather Hintze on Oct 12, 18:59

    Hundreds of Alaska Natives from around the state are gathered in Anchorage for the 2015 Elders and Youth Conference. This year’s theme is “Not in Our Smokehouse,” a call to action to shed negativity and focus on a brighter future for Alaska’s youth. Youth keynote speaker, 18-year-old Lacayah Engebretson, reminisced about growing up in fish […]