Halving the number of Americans who live in poverty is the goal of a bill introduced Thursday by Rep. Barbara Lee with support from one of the House’s most powerful Democrats.
With 46.2 million Americans living in poverty in 2011, including 16.1 million children in households below the poverty line, “we’re at a critical time in our nation,” Lee, D-Oakland, told reporters on a conference call. “The economy still is not working for anyone.”
“At every turn, our nation’s most vulnerable cannot find pathways out of poverty that they need to achieve the American dream,” she said. “It’s time that we make a commitment to confront poverty head-on.”
Her Half in Ten Act of 2013 would establish the Federal Interagency Working Group on Reducing Poverty, which would develop and implement a national strategy to reduce poverty by half in ten years, as well as provide regular reports on their progress.
“It’s morally the right thing to do … but it’s also the economically sound and fiscally prudent thing to do,” Lee said.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., is an original co-sponsor of Lee’s bill, and recently formed a Democratic Whip Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity.
“Too often we don’t see the poverty that exists around us,” he said on Thursday’s call, adding that focusing on developing and coordinating a real campaign against poverty is especially “important as the devastating Republican policy of sequester takes a blunt ax” to the nation’s social safety net. “Congress should be taking steps to make it easier, not harder, for lower-income Americans to enter the middle class.”
Budget sequestration – across-the-board cuts in federal programs including those that help support the poor – was the result of a 2011 deal between President Obama and House Republicans that created a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. That “super committee” was tasked with producing legislation that would decrease the deficit by $1.2 trillion over a decade, but it turned out to be just as deadlocked as the rest of Congress, and so these deep, automatic cuts kicked in earlier this year.
And House Republicans have contended that budget cuts are necessary to reduce the nation’s deficit, stimulate the economy and create jobs that will left workers out of poverty.
Lee said the House Budget Committee had a debate around her amendment that’s similar to this new bill, and she saw some bipartisan agreement on the goals. But the House GOP’s budget ultimately “eviscerated all of the building blocks that lead to pathways out of poverty,” she said. “The rhetoric on the Republican side is not matching what they’re actually doing.”
Hoyer noted the faith community strongly supports poverty-reduction efforts such as this, and so he hopes Republicans – many of whom “are people of strong faith and convictions” – can be won over.