There was a lot of soul searching and political navel gazing last week on the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Republicans used the occasion to, as the New York Times called it, “move to reclaim the poverty fighting mantle.”
These are the same Republicans who recommended slashing SNAP, one of the nation’s most effective anti-poverty measures, by $39 billion over 10 years. (Lawmakers have reached across the aisle to whittle the proposed cut down to $9 billion.)
Senators Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan have been at the front of this sideshow, with Rubio having proposed folding most anti-poverty programs into one federal agency that would oversee all the funding. States, meanwhile, would have more discretion over how to use their anti-poverty funds. Rubio also proposed cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit, which lifts millions of families out of poverty each year. The loss of EITCs would be acute in cities, where low-income taxpayers received roughly $10.8 billion in credits in 2005, according to the Brookings Institution.
Rubio’s idea for a replacement? “Wage enhancements for certain low-paying jobs.” No one is completely sure what that means, but what it definitely does not mean is an increased minimum wage. The Florida senator opposes raising the wages for millions of hourly workers because, in his words, “having a job that pays $10 an hour is not the American dream.”
I guess the American Dream rings up closer to $7.25.
During a recent appearance on Fox & Friends, Rubio called President Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage “stale.” Yet we’ve heard iterations of his ideas before, too — like his suggestion to supplant a swath of safety net programs with “flexible” community development block grants, something Ryan also included in his budget proposal.
“Innovations are difficult to pursue because Washington controls the money,” Rubio said in a speech last week. “But I know from my time in the Florida legislature that if states were given the flexibility, they would design and pursue innovative and effective ways to help those trapped in poverty.”
As Governing magazine notes, Ronald Reagan floated the idea of giving more power and resources to states during the 1975 Republican primaries.
This isn’t a new War on Poverty from Republicans. It’s a smokescreen, covering up what Republicans are actually doing in Washington: Drastically cutting already slim safety net programs and effectively taking away money from people below the poverty line.
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Bill Bradley is a writer and reporter living in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Deadspin, GQ, and Vanity Fair, among others.