Lewis Morris / January 13, 2016

Opportunity Is Key to Fighting Poverty

Republicans gathered in Charleston to share ideas.

A number of prominent Republicans gathered in Charleston over the weekend for a detailed discussion of poverty in America and what can be done about it. The Expanding Opportunity Forum was hosted by the Jack Kemp Foundation and moderated by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. In short, there are a lot of conservative solutions to poverty, and, given the Left’s 50-year track record of failure, it’s time to give them a try.

Six GOP presidential hopefuls joined the discussion, including Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Mike Huckabee. They were joined by Gov. Nikki Haley and Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute. Current 2016 frontrunners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz spent the weekend on the campaign trail instead, but they missed a substantive discussion and an opportunity to show some empathy for the plight of millions of Americans.

The GOP needs to prove to voters this year that it has not only the ability, but also the willingness to find solutions to the ongoing poverty problem in America. As Rubio stated at the event, “We have an outmoded, outdated government … and a Big Government Left that is more interested in protecting the status quo than in modernizing our policies to address the challenges of the 21st century.”

Since Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in 1964 and established his “Great Society,” the federal government has spent over $22 trillion in entitlements and grants for programs that have made little to no progress. And in all that time, poverty has never been driven below 10% of the population.

As we begin the final year of Barack Obama’s term in office, one in seven Americans lives in poverty. There are a record 46 million people on food stamps, 14.5 million more than when he took office in 2009. Nearly 70% of the federal budget is currently being consumed by government income-redistribution programs, and close to 50% of Americans reside in a household that is receiving that assistance.

This is not progress; this is regression — a rolling back of the hard-fought economic gains that American industry created over decades. Government agencies dominated by the Left give away money and prizes to minorities and the poor for the sole purpose of winning votes. There is never an attempt made to actually lift people out of poverty. In fact, it is better for Democrat office holders if the poor are kept right where they are. For if the poor are no longer poor and beholden to the government, then what reason do they have to vote for Democrats?

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”

It will take more than convincing the poor that they are indentured servants on the Democrats’ poverty plantation. Republicans have to offer concrete solutions and pierce the stereotype that they are unmoved by the plight of the poor.

Ryan put forth a plan in 2014 that would create federally funded opportunity grants that states could use to distribute aid to citizens as they saw fit. This plan combined 11 current entitlement streams and offered a flexible and equitable means of aid to the poor that was also accountable and measurable.

Ryan’s plan was much maligned, but it was a start. And the confab last weekend in South Carolina was another step in the same direction. It continues the conversation that needs to be had about what to do about poverty in America. It takes into account all the various sources of poverty, and looks for a solution that lifts all people out of poverty rather than by making everyone equally poor.

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