Rubio wades into poverty politics with call for more state control
January 8th, 2014
04:22 PM ET
3 months ago

Rubio wades into poverty politics with call for more state control

Washington (CNN) - Sen. Marco Rubio declared the last 50 years in the war on poverty a failure on Wednesday, drawing a considerable line between his view on how to fight poverty and those of his Democratic colleagues.

In his policy address, which fell on the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's call for an "all-out war on human poverty," Rubio bashed Democratic proposals to raise the minimum wage and lobbied for the states, not the federal government, to control anti-poverty programs.

The Republican from Florida and possible GOP 2016 presidential contender said his poverty stance was grounded in the idea that government spending is not the answer to "healing the wounds of poverty."

"I am proposing that we turn over Washington's anti-poverty programs – and the trillions spent on them – to the states," Rubio said, symbolically delivering his speech in the U.S. Capitol's ornate Lyndon B. Johnson Room. "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."

Rubio was seen as a Republican rising star when he was swept into the Senate in 2010 on the back of tea party fervor and excitement. But his support of comprehensive immigration reform – plans that passed the Senate last June but have since languished in the House – have led some in his party to sour on him.

A source close to the Senator told CNN that Rubio had hoped to deal with poverty in 2013 – before immigration dominated his agenda. The source also insists that his focus on poverty is a continuation of what he talked about when he was the speaker of the Florida legislature for two years.

While Rubio did not specify which federal programs he would hand over to the states, he did propose replacing the programs with what he called a "revenue neutral Flex Fund." This fund, Rubio said, would allow states to use the federal money to "design and fund creative initiatives that address the factors behind inequality of opportunity."

Despite the fact that Rubio billed his proposal as "the most fundamental change to how the federal government fights poverty and encourages income mobility" since Johnson's call 50 years ago, some poverty experts said Rubio's plans were neither revolutionary nor new.

"As far as returning welfare back to the states, that is definitely something Republicans have talked about before," said Rachel Sheffield, a policy analyst at the conservative think-tank, the Heritage Foundation. "This is definitely not something that is a foreign concept to Republicans."

And the politics of poverty programs are not totally problem-free for Rubio, either. Republicans in the last few months have been outspoken on altering anti-poverty programs like unemployment insurance, food stamps and Medicaid.

Democrats, on the other hand, have kept their foot down on the issue, partly because they believe it is a winning issue in the 2014 midterm election. President Barack Obama has called income inequality the "defining challenge of our time" and Democrats in Congress have pressed to increase the minimum wage and extend unemployment insurance.

Rubio also proposed rolling back the Earned Income Tax Credit – a tax credit that provides a rebate to the low and moderate income individuals with jobs. In its place, Rubio said he plans to propose legislation with "a federal wage enhancement for qualifying low-wage jobs."

"This would allow an unemployed individual to take a job that pays, say, $18,000 a year – which on its own is not enough to make ends meet – but then receive a federal enhancement to make the job a more enticing alternative to collecting unemployment insurance," Rubio said.

The Earned Income Tax Credit first became policy in 1975, when Republican President Gerald Ford signed legislation that approved the rebate. Multiple Republican presidents – Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush – expanded the program during their administrations.

Liberal groups, like the pro-Democratic American Bridge, seized on Rubio's speech, calling it hypocritical given the fact that Rubio and other Republicans voted on Tuesday to not extended long-term unemployment benefits.

"His refusal to help the unemployed is actually emblematic of conservatives' empty rhetoric on poverty," the group said in an email to reporters. "Until Rubio and the Republicans come up with any actual ideas beyond their endless calls for more tax cuts and repealing Obamacare, the real war on poverty in America remains their endless attacks on the middle and working class."

As Rubio regularly does in speeches, the first term Senator pulled from his family's history to bolster his understanding of poverty, stating that his family came to the United States from Cuba with "virtually nothing" and spent their first few years in their new home working "long hours for little pay." Yet Rubio said his parents ended up "living the American Dream."

"My parents' story, of two everyday people who were given the chance to work their way into a better life, it's a common one here in America," Rubio said. "It's a defining national characteristic rooted in a principle that was at the core of our nation's birth: that every single human being has a God given right to live freely and pursue happiness."

Rubio did not only use economic policy to bolster his stance on economic policy. The Florida Republican also said marriage is the "greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty."

CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.


Filed under: Marco Rubio
soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    If Rubio is for something in the beginning, he'll be against it in the end. We've caught on to your Jedi mind trick Marco. As far as poverty goes, republicans number goal is to destroy the social safety net. They're not for empowering people. They'd prefer that you live in poverty to serve the needs of the top 1% & work for scraps. Primary reason why you see the U.S. Chamber of Commerce so eager for the immigration bill to be passed.

    January 8, 2014 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  2. Sniffit

    Teatroll Rosetta Stone says: "Red states hereby demand more power to screw the poor and minorities and hopefully convince them to move out to more blue states."

    January 8, 2014 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  3. Tampa Tim

    Marco is merely confused. As it has been explained to him, the war on poverty pretty much disappeared with President Reagan. Most baggers have declared war on our most needy Americans. Our governor Scott has refused to allow another 400,000 who would be eligible for health care under Medicaid.

    January 8, 2014 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  4. The Real Tom Paine

    So, the solution is to give more money to the states so Red Governors can balance their books retroactively?

    January 8, 2014 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  5. Gurgyl

    @profile, just wonderful. What I had in mind–you wrote. These so called republican-thinkers are just old,rusty,no-good,below 20k yearly, on SS, Medicare guys. Do they think these elected thugs so called rethuglicans care? They don't give darn hoot at these low class animals with no education to racist-color ideologies. God bless!

    January 8, 2014 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  6. Lynda/Minnesota

    Uh oh. Looks as if Chris Christie is losing that GOPerville "monthly favor" thingy and the next up is ...

    Yep. You guessed it. Good old boy Marco to the rescue.

    He's gonna give some speeches. And some condescension: "the most fundamental change to how the federal government fights poverty and encourages income mobility"

    No more Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! for this particular man. He learned his lesson well: We don't need jobs ... we need new talking points.

    January 8, 2014 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  7. Sniffit

    "Our governor Scott has refused to allow another 400,000 who would be eligible for health care under Medicaid."

    Very good point. In fact, GOP/Teatrolls controlling red states have left 5M people without access to health insurance because they refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA. Rubio wholeheartedly supports that spite.

    January 8, 2014 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  8. Durundal

    While I do think the idea of allowing the regional 'state' governments the leeway to tailor initiatives to their conditions, it seems like more and more the states call for this right in such a manner so they can custom design their own little inbred paradise and run amok in it (especially when it comes to faith based policy initiatives)

    January 8, 2014 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  9. don in albuquerque

    Ever notice that the longer these guys (both sides) have to campaign, not only the more money they spend, but the dumber they get?

    January 8, 2014 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  10. The REAL Truth...

    @sniffit – GOP/Teatrolls controlling red states have left 5M people without access to health insurance because they refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA. Rubio wholeheartedly supports that spite.
    --------------------------------
    Let's not bring up the ACA exchanges these same red states refused to set up, causing not only the website debacle, but causing the very insurance gap they are complaining that ACA caused...

    January 8, 2014 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  11. Silence DoGood

    "returning welfare back to the states" – so it can be dismantled
    "turn over Washington's anti-poverty programs to the states" – so we can dismantle them
    "outspoken on altering anti-poverty programs like unemployment insurance, food stamps and Medicaid" – to dismantle them
    Why do conservatives have to hide their real purpose. Why doesn't he just say "I want to dismantle them"? Because he would get about 10 votes supporting the real reason.

    January 8, 2014 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  12. Stuffitu

    I worked hard all my life, paid taxes, acted responsibly, why do Obama and the democrat liberals want to punish me?

    January 8, 2014 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  13. Lynda/Minnesota

    "it seems like more and more the states call for this right in such a manner so they can custom design their own little inbred paradise and run amok in it (especially when it comes to faith based policy initiatives)"

    If you are suggesting that GOPerville would love nothing more than to send their own welfare hillbillies "up north" to the more prosperous states to contend with (and I agree this is the plan) I'll be first to suggest it ain't going to happen. One winter in Minnesota and these folks will be crawling southward leaving GOPerville's dreams of Southern Utopia in the wind.

    January 8, 2014 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  14. Jules

    Rubio is so over and trying so hard for a comeback. Let's look at the poverty in the red states where the governors refused to set up healthcare exchanges for their uninsured people – they turned down the Medicaid grants to help take care of their people that had no insurance. Sure those states are taking care of their poor just fine. Rubio is a young fool.

    January 8, 2014 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  15. steve

    State governments are terrible with federal tax dollars in medicaid and other welfare programs. Usually it's
    misappropriated to private insurance company's or pay card company's that charge hefty fees. Private insurance company's make billions of Medicaid in Florida alone. There needs to be Federal over site.

    January 8, 2014 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  16. Romney is STILL NOT My Hero

    Princess Rub-"Uh, No" is doing a great job in the GOPers continuing war on the middle class. Explain it to me someone, what does the Earned Income Tax Credit have to do with the unemployed? Isn't it specifically for those who actually have jobs.

    January 8, 2014 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  17. steve

    Federal Wage enhancement sounds like it's a subsidy to employer not the employee.

    January 8, 2014 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  18. renegade98

    There is no way in h@ll that Republicans care about those living in poverty, NO WAY WHATSOEVER. This is nothing but politics to them.

    January 8, 2014 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  19. Name jk. Sfl. GOP CRUZ lee&rubio 24billion dallar LOSS of your tax money conservatives,the garbage of America.

    Rubio, the teaparty CLOWN needs to pack his bags and get ready to file for the unemployment that this moron opposes. Rubio doesn't represent the wishes of the people of Florida !!!!! He represents the teaparty idiots only and will be kicked OUT of office in his next election along with RADAL, the coke head alcie.

    January 8, 2014 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  20. Name fed up

    Hey guys you all are to hard on rubio.no worries the republicans will show him how they really feel about him in 2016 CAN YOU SAY ANCHOR BABY FROM CUBA!!!!

    January 8, 2014 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  21. Name jk. Sfl. GOP CRUZ lee&rubio 24billion dallar LOSS of your tax money conservatives,the garbage of America.

    This GOP teaparty bum will be kicked out in his next election., who would vote for him???? Oh yea, the four croch brothers and the teaparty, that means you LOSE!!!!!

    January 8, 2014 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |