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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

‘War On Poverty’ Remains Controversial

Lynda Johnson Robb, daughter of President Lyndon Johnson and wife of former Sen. Chuck Robb (D-Va.), is joined by Democratic members of the House of Representatives during an event marking the 50th anniversary of the start of the War on Poverty at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center January 8, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Lynda Johnson Robb, daughter of President Lyndon Johnson and wife of former Sen. Chuck Robb (D-Va.), is joined by Democratic members of the House of Representatives during an event marking the 50th anniversary of the start of the War on Poverty at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center January 8, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson kicked off what he called an “unconditional war on poverty,” launching government programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Head Start.

In a statement released this morning, President Barack Obama said that because of those War on Poverty programs, working families have help making ends meet and fewer seniors are living in poverty.

He’s preparing to unveil the first five “Promise Zones” in San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, southeastern Kentucky and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, to combat high poverty in those areas.

Meantime, conservatives argue that big-government programs have failed to substantially change the poverty rate in the U.S.

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Well, today President Obama said in a statement, poverty does still exist, but millions more Americans would be living in poverty without programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and food stamps, that came out of President Johnson's war on poverty launched 50 years ago today. There's still a debate over who won that war. President Reagan once memorably quipped poverty did.

But now both Democrats and Republicans are planning the road ahead. Rick Klein is political director of ABC News, and Rick, tomorrow the president is laying out a plan to bring tax breaks and grants to places still struggling with poverty: San Antonio, parts of Kentucky, we're hearing. But the debate has always been about the role the government would play. It feels like that's heating up again.

RICK KLEIN: It is very much, and what's interesting about it is that both sides are engaged in it. They have very different takes on whether the war on poverty led by LBJ 50 years ago, that unconditional war, has been successful or not, and whether government should have a larger or smaller role in it. But what's interesting is that both parties are seeing the political potency of this issue, and they are engaged full-bore on issues of income inequality, of combating poverty, finding solutions, and I think it's going to be one of the dominant themes of 2014.

YOUNG: Well, and let's start with the president and the Democrats. Liberals are wondering if President Obama is going to call his plan a war on inequality.

KLEIN: That's right, and I think he's going to come under a lot of pressure to go bolder, to go deeper. We already know that he just signed a budget agreement that didn't include an extension to unemployment insurance benefits for the long-term unemployed. He is pushing to see that happen now in the new year.

He's pushing on the minimum wage. But there are a lot of folks inside his party, kind of the remnants of the Occupy movement and empowerment and anger that's out there around income inequality. He's been talking recently about the growth in inequality over the last couple years.

Of course he's been president for five of those years. So I think he's under some pressure even from his left to go further, to go bolder, go deeper, knowing of course that the political situation in Congress would suggest that not a lot can get done.

YOUNG: Well, I'm sure some people in the Occupy movement are saying they helped get this issue on the table. But looking at the Republicans, in his morning briefing today, Republican House Speaker John Boehner was asked by a reporter whether it was appropriate to have Florida Republican Steve Southerland, who has led the fight against food stamps, take the lead on the GOP response to the war on poverty, which he is. Let's listen.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Is that appropriate? Is that the kind of message and the face you want...

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: Well, I think Mr. Southerland has a deep desire to deal with the issue of poverty. And when you look at the issue of poverty, obviously there are lots of facets to it. But one solution that we all know works is a job.

YOUNG: So Rick Klein, where are Republicans on this? Robert Costa, political reporter at the Washington Post, tweeted this morning about a brewing debate in GOP circles over whether to mount a broad anti-war-on-poverty case or just focus on empathy and child tax credits and vouchers and at least an appearance of empathy.

KLEIN: You see the divide play out even in the votes this week, with some Republican senators crossing party lines on unemployment insurance. There's a divide also on whether this is potentially a politically winning issue for Republicans. Poorer voters tend not to vote at all, and to the extent that they do vote, more likely to be Democrats on economic issues.

So the idea that there is a lot of - a lot of ground to be made up in terms of trying to appeal to anti-poverty measures is not something that Republicans traditionally have been comfortable with, but - although there's a larger number of them that are citing Jack Kemp in some of their appeals right now.

And I think the fact that some 2016 contenders like Marco Rubio, like Paul Ryan, even Rand Paul, are talking about the issue, suggests that they realize that this is a big issue in American not just for Republicans and Democrats but for all voters.

YOUNG: And remind us, citing the late Jack Kemp, that means...

KLEIN: Well, that means it's a more nuanced vision of what it means to have the classic Reagan trickle-down economics. And I think Jack Kemp has been - was a champion of a more empowered poorer voter or poorer resident, and I think particularly Paul Ryan in a lot of what he has said and done over the years, I think he got eclipsed by the Romney campaign and the 47-percent comments, but he believes strongly that there is an obligation to help people at the bottom of the economic scale and to find ways, conservative ways, personal empowerment ways, to take care of people that are less fortunate in terms of their finances.

YOUNG: Well, but meanwhile we also have a speech today from Florida Senator Marco Rubio in the LBJ Room on Capitol Hill, saying isn't it time to declare big government's war on poverty a failure. So not yet one organized voice coming out of the GOP. Rick Klein, political director of ABC News, on this, again the 50th anniversary of President Johnson's war on poverty, with a lot of benefits, debatable or not, that people, a lot of people, enjoy. Rick, thanks so much.

KLEIN: Thank you.

YOUNG: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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  • Whitesauce

    With all respect to Mr. Klein, I don’t understand how Rep. Ryan, a devotee of Ayn Rand, can be viewed as someone with compassion for the poor. Perhaps he cares on some personal level, but if he can’t even support the unemployment extension, it’s hard to envision that he’ll be part of a reasonable proposal for ending poverty.

  • dialyn

    Hypocrites. Politicians have, for years, ignored anyone who isn’t a major donor to their coffers. They pretend to care when it is an election year and then go back to kissing wealthy derrieres and providing corporate welfare. If the Republicans wanted to do something, where were they a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, four years ago, five years ago? Instead of being obstructive, naysaying, and bullying, they could have…well, come up with some ideas other than stuffing benefits in the pockets of billionaires and making it easier to destroy the environment with avarice driven corporations. Compassion for the poor? Look at what they have done in the past and not what they conveniently say now and you will see there is a lack of compassion in Congress, certainly no plans other than “elect us….we promise we’ll do something this time though we never have before,” and a complete inability to cooperate and negotiate so that something could be accomplished. I come from a family of Republican voters, but I don’t see any reason to support them now.

    • RAOUL

      Yes it is that mysterious hollow word “SOMETHING” the Republicans use daily for solutions without providing solutions unless we give up the Social Security, Medicare we paid for and continue to do so, eliminate health care, medic aide, food stamps and unemployment insurance, farm subsides….. the Republican list is endless so that they may do “SOMETHING” for the problems they created so wealthy Republicans can have more. Really the Republican translation for the word SOMETHING is “NOTHING”!
      Go ahead and vote for a Republican President and we will be another job making war for the jobless turned soldiers faster than you and I can say “Something”!


    I always find it amusing when the wealthy advocate some arcane solution to the war on poverty, when it is their actions that created the majority of the problems for the middle, poorer and unemployed classes. Proof: Millions are being made via the stock market from American jobs shipped overseas. In turn, Republicans could not give a damn about the war on poverty, fore they have found a money making solution to add to their wealth without the use of American labor. Elitist ideas have and still do ruin societies and cultures for the sake of greed which is the gate way to more sex and power. See the Steven Cohen Frontline program concerning inside trading on PBS. The war on poverty as proposed by Paul Ryan is an oxymoronic lie solution.

  • Mike

    I remember, from my childhood, laughing at a couple of slogans made in jest: “Kill a commie for Christ” and “Join the war on poverty– kill a pauper”.
    To do the 1st, we built 10,000 hydrogen bombs.
    To do the 2nd, we reduced all the social net programs and the progressive income tax that paid for them.
    Not laughing now. Trying not to be killed, to reduce poverty.

  • Caroline

    It’s a strange thing to me that we/our government,[ruling Conservatives] can spend BILLIONS of dollars on 2 wars, reaping mayhem on ourselves and others, yet doesn’t want to take care of the wounded coming back from those wars ~ and as well when veterans and others fall into hard times the very government, who’s caused the problems in their lives in the first place, won’t lift a finger to help, or do what is right.

    Why don’t we spend billions on educating those who are out of work? Why is it OK that companies, and wealthy individuals hide money off shore, and corporate taxes are overlooked, and given breaks, but they do not hire more people. The rich are NOT paying better wages, nor are they employing more people, or training individuals or supporting programs to educate people to support the high tech workers that are needed?

    I just don’t get it. I think there should be some test to see if your co./corp. qualifies for their tax break by creating X amt. of jobs to earn them. What I continue to hear is that wealthy people create jobs, but I don’t see many jobs ~ just more wealthy on one hand ~ and incommensurable, unlike circumstance ~disparateness on the other.

  • jonathanpulliam

    There are two major political parties in the U.S. that seem determined to make you poorer and poorer, since we’re talking about poverty, and they do this, in part, by holding your economy hostage. That has caused much destruction of value, some of which could have gone towards helping the poor rise up from poverty. Much value that once belonged to you has been taken from you. Would you personally have spent your hard earned money on a war in Afghanistan? Would you have borrowed to prosecute a war in Iraq? Of course not. You were lied to by your government. They only spent pennies on the dollar to mitigate the effects of poverty, but billions on an un-winnable “war on terror.” The poverty of the imagination of the policy makers in our crappy, dysfunctional U.S. government we’re stuck with at present is the most grim, the most abject, blighted, poverty of all.

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