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January 07, 2014 12:53 PM The Conservative Anti-Poverty Agenda: Heating Up Kemp’s Stale Ideas

By Ed Kilgore

At WaPo today, Philip Rucker and Robert Costa (bravo to the Post for hiring a genuinely fine conservative reporter) have a roundup of Republican “ideas”—or at least rhetoric—for fighting poverty. Perhaps some of the upcoming speeches and interviews they note will shock us (and it would indeed shock me to hear something new from the GOP on the subject), but here’s what they’ve got so far:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will give a speech Wednesday that aides said will lay out changes to federal programs to help people climb out of poverty permanently. In the weeks to come, Rubio also plans to introduce ideas to make it easier for mid-career adults to go back to college or learn new job skills at vocational schools.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the 2012 vice-presidential nominee, has been traveling to impoverished areas and meeting with community organizers. He plans to address poverty in an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams on Thursday.
A third potential GOP presidential candidate, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), is also putting a renewed emphasis on the poor, traveling to Detroit to pitch a plan to revitalize urban centers through “economic freedom zones.” Paul has given his message on income inequality an ideological edge — mixing lofty, empathetic language with anti-government broadsides.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who has been visiting urban schools, will give a speech Wednesday promoting school choice as a way to address poverty. And Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has proposed increasing the child tax credit as a means of blending social conservatism with anti-poverty policies.

Ryan’s famous for massive and perpetual concern trolling of the poor via proposals to liberate them from government assistance, thus restoring their dignity (but not exactly housing or feeding or them or providing anything other than theoretical opportunity). Rand Paul’s the same, though I’m surprised he’s seizing on the hoariest GOP pet rock of them all, enterprise zones. Cantor’s following the usual “education policy” line of freeing poor folks from bad public schools by destroying them. And in general, Republicans have a hard time disguising their zest for disabling “paternalistic government” instead of improving or replacing its services.

Rucker and Costa note in passing a debate between Republicans focused on 2014 who don’t think there’s anything wrong with existing GOP policies, and those focused on 2016 who worry about the inequality issue finding traction. It’s not much of a debate, however, unless the alleged poverty-fighters of the party come up with something other than the warmed-over nostrums of the late Jack Kemp, who at least cared enough to try something new and presumably wouldn’t be happy with his rickety policy experiments being treated like science.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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