WASHINGTON – On the 50th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called the former president’s “big government” approach to the issue a failure and proposed ending all federal programs dedicated to fighting poverty, instead delegating the fight to the states.
In a speech sponsored by the conservative American Enterprise Institute and held in the Lyndon B. Johnson room of the Senate, Rubio argued that federal anti-poverty programs — and the debt created by them — merely treat the symptoms, not the root causes of the problem. For this reason, the senator called for the dismantlement of the War on Poverty, but without specifying which programs should be relegated to the states aside from food stamps.
“Washington is too bureaucratic and resistant to change,” Rubio said. “Its one-size-fits-all approach to policy is not conducive to solving a problem as diverse as this one. Therefore, what I am proposing today is the most fundamental change to how the federal government fights poverty and encourages income mobility since President Johnson first conceived of the War on Poverty 50 years ago. I am proposing that we turn Washington’s anti-poverty programs – and the trillions spent on them – over to the states.”
While income inequality has moved to the forefront of both Democratic and Republican agendas in anticipation of the 2014 midterm elections, Rubio focused on an opportunity gap instead of an income gap. He argued that the only way to close this gap would be by creating more job opportunities, and then providing Americans with the necessary training to fulfill them.
“The only solution that will achieve meaningful and lasting results is to provide those who are stuck in low paying jobs the real opportunity to move up to better paying jobs,” he said. “And to do this we must focus on policies that help our economy create those jobs and that help people overcome the obstacles between them and better paying work. The War on Poverty accomplished neither of these two things.”
Rubio, who has been mentioned as a possible GOP presidential contender in 2016, suggested the policies he has championed since being elected to the Senate in 2010, such as fostering business expansion and innovation by reducing regulations, simplifying the federal tax code, and scaling back the federal debt to help restore faith in the stability of the American economy.
“Real free enterprise is about a broad and growing economy that creates opportunity for everyone to get ahead,” he said. “It creates the opportunity to become wealthy. But it also creates good and stable middle class jobs like the ones my parents had.”
While he emphasized supporting skills and vocational training so “the dreams and talents of over 40 million humans [stuck in poverty],” could be “unleashed into our economy,” the senator said the actual work of training this 40 million should be left to the states, which would be given the money formerly devoted to the unspecified federal programs to foster innovation. Rubio proposed establishing a revenue-neutral flex fund that would allow Washington to help the states’ efforts, but said that the specifics of how it would be funded have not been hammered out yet.
Though much of the recent focus on income inequality centers on ramping up the post-recession recovery, it has been a pervasive issue in the United States even before 2008’s economic collapse. From 1979 to 2007, the top 1 percent of U.S. households enjoyed a 275 percent increase in income, the next 19 percent saw their incomes rise 65 percent increase, the next 60 percent jumped 40 percent increase and the bottom 20 percent had their incomes rise 18 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The recovery process has continued this trend of income disparities growing greater. From 2009 to 2012, average real income per family grew by only 6 percent after dipping 17.4 percent between 2007 and 2009, according to a study by Emmanuel Saez, a professor of economics at University of California, Berkeley and the director of the Center for Equitable Growth. However, incomes of families in the wealthiest 1 percent grew by 31.4 percent during the recovery, while those of the bottom 99 percent grew merely by 0.4 percent. This gap has allowed the top 10 percent of families to receive 50.4 percent of total income in 2012.