Maryland lawmaker blasts Rubio's take on the War on Poverty

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Marco Rubio
  • Marco Rubio
There's been a lot of talk about income inequality and poverty in the first two weeks of 2014, and a lot of it is coming from Republicans.

Never one to miss out on the moment, Florida's Marco Rubio made a much publicized speech last week in Washington where he declared that the "War on Poverty" as declared by Lyndon Johnson and the federal government 50 years ago, had been lost. The upshot? Anti-poverty programs should be consolidated into one agency and give those funds to the states, according to the senator.

But coming after Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election in part because of the perception that he didn't care about the less financially well-off, Rubio was asked by Bob Schieffer on CBS' Face The Nation, why was it good politics to give such a speech right now?

"It would be wrong not to recognize that there are significant number of Americans that do not have equality of opportunity," Rubio said. "That's not a political issue. That is something that threatens what makes us exceptional and different than the rest of the world. We need to address that. We need to address the fact that we have 40-someodd million people who feel trapped in poverty and do not feel they have an equal opportunity to get ahead."

Rubio ceded that some federal governments to try to alleviate poverty "have some utility" but added they don't help people "emerge" out of being poor.

Schieffer said that the message he got out of Rubio's speech was that it was time to get rid of programs such as Head Start, the program that promotes the school readiness of children up to age 5 by enhancing learning skills. Rubio disagreed, saying he simply wants those programs reformed.

But what if those states don't believe in those programs, Schieffer asked, referring to half the states in the country (like Florida) who haven't joined in on Medicaid expansion?

Rubio replied with what has been the consistent theme from Florida Republicans from House Speaker Will Weatherford on down - that they fear that after three years the feds will go back on their word and not agree to continue to fund Medicaid expansion at up to 90 percent after three years as they have promised.

But that wasn't a very good answer to the Democrat who followed Rubio on Face The Nation, Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings.

"If you're going to take these programs and..is he going to say that about Medicare, too? And put it into a basket in the states. You see what the states have done?" Cummings asked. "In his own state, we have 800,000 people, Bob, that could have been placed in Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and could be getting treated right now. There are people watching this show right now that could be treated for colon cancer or serious diseases that are not. And he hasn't done anything on that."

Another proposal that Rubio mentioned in his War on Poverty has been lost speech was a proposal to create a “federal wage enhancement” subsidy, which would replace the Earned Income Tax Credit. Maryland Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen blasted that idea on Fox News Sunday, saying the EITC has helped lift people out of poverty and that it's been a way to reward work.

Roberts then went to Panama City-based GOP Congressman Steve Southerland on the show, saying that he was "getting the stuffing beaten out of you," over his proposal to require able-bodied adults to work or volunteer at least 20 hours each week in order to receive government food assistance.

Southerland - in a major battle for re-election against Democrat Gwen Graham - said that his bill excluded children, the disabled and seniors. "I think that over 80 percent of Americans agree with that premise. But it only applies again, to that able-bodied individuals without dependents."

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