Republican Candidates on Poverty and Opportunity, 2016 Election

Click here for full transcripts of all debates, courtesy of the American Presidency Project.

Republican Party Debate Schedule
February 6, 2016: Manchester, New Hampshire
February 13, 2016: Greenville, South Carolina
February 26, 2016: Houston, Texas
March 3, 2016: Detroit, Michigan
March 10, 2016: Miami, Florida

Candidate statements on poverty & opportunity (alphabetical by last name):

Jeb Bush
“The new normal of two percent that the left is saying you can’t do anything about is so dangerous for our country. There’s 6 million people living in poverty today, more than when Barack Obama got elected. 6.5 million people are working part-time, most of whom want to work full-time. We’ve created rules and taxes on top of every aspiration of people, and the net result is we’re not growing fast, income’s not growing. A four percent growth strategy means you fix a convoluted tax code. You get in and you change every aspect of regulations that are job killers. You get rid of Obamacare and replace it with something that doesn’t suppress wages and kill jobs.” – Aug 6


“Six million more people are living in poverty than the day that Barack Obama got elected president. Six million more people. The middle class has had declining income, workforce participation rates are lower than they were in 1977. If we grow at 4 percent, people are going to be lifted out of poverty. The great middle that defines our country will have a chance to be able to pursue their dreams as they see fit.” – Sep 16


“Two percent growth means declining income for the middle class. It means more than 6 million people are stuck in poverty than the day that Barack Obama was inaugurated.” – Nov 10


Ben Carson
“I said we need to get both sides of this issue to sit down, and talk about it. Negotiate a reasonable minimum wage, and index that so that we never have to have this conversation again in the history of America. I think we also have to have two minimum wages, a starter, and a sustaining because how are young people ever going to get a job if you have such a high minimum wage that it makes it impractical to hire them?” – Sep 16


“As far as the minimum wage is concerned, people need to be educated. Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases. It’s particularly a problem in the black community. Only 19.8 percent of black teenagers have a job who are looking for one. And that’s because of those high wages.” – Nov 10


“Even for the average person, every single regulation costs money. And it hurts the poor and the middle class much more than it does the rich. They go into the store and they buy a bar of soap, it costs 10 cents more, they notice it. And the middle class, when they come to the cash register, have a whole cart full of things that cost 5, 10 or 15 cents more, they notice it. It is hurting the poor.” – Nov 10


Ted Cruz
“The struggle of single moms is extraordinary. And you know, when you see Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and all the Democrats talking about wanting to address the plight of working women, not a one of them mentioned the fact that under Barack Obama, 3.7 million women have entered poverty.” – Oct 28


“You know, today, the top 1 percent earn a higher share of our income than any year since 1928. But if you look at working men and women, if you look at a single mom buying groceries, she sees hamburger prices have gone up nearly 40 percent.” – Oct 28


John Kasich
“And, finally, the working poor, instead of them having come into the emergency rooms where it costs more, where they’re sicker and we end up paying, we brought [Medicaid] in here to make sure that people could get on their feet.” – Aug 6


“In the state of Ohio, we do have a moderate increase in the minimum wage. I come from a town where if the wind blew the wrong way, people found themselves out of work. An economic theory is fine, but you know what? People need help.” – Nov 10


“So many people in my family worked in steel mills, and they didn’t work with a white collar, they worked in a blue collar. And the fact is those jobs are critical, they’re hard working members of the middle class and they need to be paid attention to because they’re Americans and they carry the load. So let’s demand open trade but fair trade in this country.” – Jan 14


Marco Rubio
“The greatest gains, percentage-wise, for people [under my tax plan] are going to be at the lower end, and here’s why: because in addition to a general personal exemption, we are increasing the per-child tax credit for working families.” – Oct 28


“If I thought that raising the minimum wage was the best way to help people increase their pay, I would be all for it, but it isn’t. In the 20th century, it’s a disaster. … Here’s the best way to raise wages. Make America the best place in the world to start a business or expand an existing business, tax reform and regulatory reform, bring our debt under control, fully utilize our energy resources so we can reinvigorate manufacturing, repeal and replace Obamacare, and make higher education faster and easier to access, especially vocational training. For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education.” – Nov 10


“In 35 out of 50 states, child care costs more than college. … And so yes, I have a child tax credit increase, and I’m proud of it. I am proud that I have a pro-family tax code, because the pro-family tax plan I have will strengthen the most important institution in the country, the family.” – Nov 10


“So what my tax plan does, is it does create, especially for working families, an additional Child Tax Credit. So that parents who are working get to keep more of their own money, not the government’s money, to invest in their children to go to school, to go to a private school, to buy a new backpack.” – Feb 6


“The issue of poverty is critical, because for me, poverty is the — is — is free enterprise not reaching people. Today, we have antipoverty programs that don’t cure poverty. We don’t cure poverty in America. Our antipoverty programs have become, in some instances, a way of life, a lifestyle. Now, we do need antipoverty programs, you can’t have free enterprise programs without them, but not as a way of life. And so I have a very specific proposal on this and I don’t — in 60 seconds, I can’t describe it all, but it basically turns the program over to states. It allows states to design innovative programs that cure poverty, because I think Nikki Haley will do a better job curing poverty than Barack Obama.” – Feb 6


Donald Trump
“We cannot [raise the minimum wage] if we are going to compete with the rest of the world.” – Nov 10


Former Candidates
Chris Christie
Now, let me tell you exactly what we would do on Social Security. Yes, we’d raise the retirement age two years, and phase it in over 25 years, that means we’d raise it one month a year for 25 years when we’re all living longer, and living better lives. Secondly, we would means test Social Security for those who are making over $200,000 dollars a year in retirement income, and have $4 to $5 million dollars in liquid assets saved. They don’t need that Social Security check. Social Security is meant to make sure that no one who’s worked hard, and played by the rules, and paid into the system grows old in poverty in America.” – Aug 6


“First, we’ll make the tax code fairer, flatter, and simpler. Get rid of all the special interest deductions. You know, the American people feel like the tax code is rigged for the rich, and you know why they feel that way? Because it is.” – Nov 10


Carly Fiorina
“92 percent of the jobs lost during Barack Obama’s first term belonged to women. Senator Cruz is precisely right: three million women have fallen into poverty under this administration. The number of women living in extreme poverty is the highest level on record.” – Oct 28


Lindsay Graham
“When I was 21, my mom died. When I was 22, my dad died. We owned a liquor store, restaurant, bar and we lived in the back. Every penny we got from Social Security, because my sister was a minor, we needed. Today, I’m 60, I’m not married, I don’t have any kids. I would give up some Social Security to save a system that Americans are going to depend on now and in the future. Half of American seniors would be in poverty without a Social Security check.” – Aug 6


“If you’re a waitress out there wanting more money, I’m not going to increase the minimum wage, I’m going to try to create an environment where somebody else will open up a restaurant across the street to hire you away at a higher rate, or they’ll have to pay you more to keep you.” – Sept. 16


“We need to lower [the corporate tax rate] so [businesses] don’t leave. The goal is to help the middle class…somebody who makes too much to be on government assistance but still lives paycheck to paycheck.” – Oct 28


“Social Security is not just a concept to me. I know why it exists; 50 percent of today’s seniors would be in poverty without a Social Security check. I promise you, if you make me your president, I will save Social Security because I know why it exists.” – Oct 28


Mike Huckabee
“[Social Security and Medicare] are not entitlements and they’re not welfare. That’s an earned benefit. And by gosh, you paid for it. And if the government screwed it up, you shouldn’t have to pay the penalty because of an incompetent government. That’s different than the social programs that we’ve spent $2 trillion on since the War on Poverty began exactly 50 years ago this year. The reason we still have so much poverty is because it was never designed to get people out of poverty. It was designed to make sure that there was an industry of poverty, so that the people in the poverty industry would have a lot of jobs. But the people who are poor haven’t been benefited. Having grown up poor, I know a little something about it. Nobody who is poor wants to be. That’s a nonsense statement and I hear it all the time. ‘Well poor people ought to work harder.’ They’re working as hard as they can, for gosh sake.” – Nov 10


Bobby Jindal
“Look, I think the government should work to change [the lack of paid family leave in the U.S.], but that doesn’t mean I’m for the government mandating that.” – Oct 28


“Do I want people to have paid leave? Sure. Do I want people to earn higher wages? Sure. Do I want them to have better benefits? Sure. The government can’t wave a magic wand and make that happen.” – Oct 28


“What we really need to be talking about is that, these last seven years, we’ve had more government spending, more government dependence. But poverty has gone up. Inequality has gone up. Only the top 10 percent have seen their median incomes go up.” – Nov 10


George Pataki
“We have a skills gap. … What we have to do in America is honor blue collar work again. We have to honor the carpenter, the plumber, the electrician, who can actually build something and instead of just saying that a college degree delivers prestige, let’s celebrate those who do things with their hands and elevate their skills using training in high school and community colleges.” – Oct 28


Rand Paul
“And actually, under the current circumstances, kids who had privilege like [Jeb Bush], don’t go to jail, but the poor kids in our inner cities go to jail. I don’t think that’s fair. And I think we need to acknowledge it, and it is hypocritical to still want to put poor people in jail.” – Sept. 16


“One thing I discovered in Ferguson was that a third of the budget for the city of Ferguson was being reaped by civil fines. People were just being fined to death. Now you and I and many of the people in this audience, if we get a $100 fine, we can survive it. If you’re living on the edge of poverty and you get a $100 fine or your car towed, a lot of times you lose your job.” – Jan 28


“You want to study income inequality, let’s bring the [Federal Reserve] forward and talk about Fed policy and how it causes income inequality.” – Oct 28


“Is there an area for a safety net? Can you have Medicare or Social Security? Yes. But you ought to acknowledge the government doesn’t do a very good job at it.” – Oct 28


“I think that we ought to look where income inequality seems to be the worst. It seems to be worst in cities run by Democrats. … But I would also lay some blame at the feet of the Federal Reserve. I think the Federal Reserve has made this problem worse by artificially keeping interest rates below the market rate.” – Nov 10


Rick Santorum
“If we want to create jobs for the folks that you’re talking about, who are having trouble getting off government benefits, primarily because of their low skill level, there is no better way — it’s worked for 100 years in America — putting people back to work in manufacturing is it. I’m going to be introducing a plan which I call the 2020 Perfect Vision for America. It’s a 20 percent flat rate tax, it’ll take a blowtorch to the IRS. It will create a manufacturing juggernaut in this country. And you combine that with reforms of our welfare system. You’re looking at the man who introduced and fought on the floor as a freshman senator and passed the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 over two President Clinton vetoes. Got 70 votes in the United States Senate. Bipartisan issue. And I ended a federal entitlement. Never been done before, never been done since. What we need to do is take the rest of the federal entitlements, not just welfare, but food stamps and Medicaid and housing programs and do the same thing we did with welfare. Work requirements and time limits. That will change everything.” – Aug 6


“When it comes to hardworking Americans who are at the bottom of the income scale, we can’t provide some level of income support? What I’ve proposed is not anything like what the president has proposed.  I believe that would be harmful to the American public, but a $.50 cents an hour increase over three years, which is what I’m proposing. So we would have a minimum wage which would be roughly in the area of what it’s been historically, about 5 percent of wages. To me, if you’re going to talk to 90 percent of American workers — by the way, 90 percent of American workers don’t own a bar. They don’t own a business. They work for a living. Most of them are wage earners.” – Sept. 16


“We have a system that has a low single rate, but we take care of American families. I’m talking about $2,750 per person. That means a family four, that’s $11,000 dollar tax credit. That’s a very, very strong pro-family — and if you looked at the Wall Street Journal today, and so many of the publications that have been out there, they’ve talked about how the biggest problem of the hollowing out of the middle of this country. For workers to be able to raise is actually, the breakdown of the American family. William Galston, a liberal, said that on the pages of the Wall Street Journal today that the key to poverty is families. So, we put forth a pro-growth — Steve Forbes plan, combined it with a pro- family plan, and that’s why I think it’s going to work out, and work effectively.” – Oct 28


“We have the lowest labor participation rate in 50 years and we also have the slowest growth in wages in the history of our country, any 20-year period. … We aren’t giving the training and the investment in our workers and we’re bringing in [immigrants] to compete against low wage workers. …We need to get better training and better skills, including vocational education and training in community colleges. But the bottom line is, we have to make sure that we are not flooding this country with competition for low-wage workers.” – Oct 28


“The problem with the tax code today, because of all the different provisions, you’re right, you go back to work, you lose welfare benefits, you’re losing money.” – Nov 10


Scott Walker
“So, the best way to help people see their wages go up is to get them the education, the skill they need, to take on careers that pay more than minimum wage. And, it’s why we talk about it, it’s all about jobs.” – Sept. 16