WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Marco Rubio says the nation needs a new reform agenda to help the poorest Americans find work and boost their families out of poverty, a goal that he says has been undermined by Washington’s bureaucracy.
The Florida Republican said in a speech Wednesday that money from the federal government to address poverty should be shifted to the states to give workers a better chance of climbing out of poverty. Congress, meanwhile, should reform the tax code to give people in low-wage jobs an incentive to stay in the workforce and not collect unemployment insurance.
“America is still the land of opportunity for most, but it is not a land of opportunity for all. If we are to remain an exceptional nation, we must close this gap in opportunity,” said Rubio, a potential 2016 presidential candidate.
Rubio and his fellow Republicans have used the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” to offer an alternative to Democrats on ways of helping the poor.
The Cuban-American senator said the “big government approach” fostered by Johnson and some of his successors had failed to help enough Americans trapped by poverty. Rubio noted that nearly 50 million Americans currently live below the poverty line, while 4 million Americans have been without a job for six months or more.
He said proposals by Democrats to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour may be popular with many Americans but won’t help people emerge from poverty. “Our current government programs, at best, offer only a partial solution. They help people deal with poverty, but they do not help them emerge from poverty,” Rubio said.
Democrats dismissed Rubio’s approach as representative of Republican policies dating back several decades that failed to help people escape poverty. They noted that Rubio’s agenda was unveiled while many Republicans have expressed opposition to extending unemployment benefits and increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour.
“It’s the same warmed-over rhetoric that we’ve seen from Republicans since the Reagan administration,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Rubio said Congress should turn over its anti-poverty programs and trillions of dollars in expenditures to the states, which would be better suited to address more local poverty issues. He also intends to propose legislation to replace the earned income tax credit for low-income workers with a federal wage enhancement for low-wage workers.
Rubio says the changes to the tax code would create incentives for the poor to work instead of receiving unemployment insurance.
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