Spotlight Exclusives

A Conservative Convening on Poverty and Opportunity

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Conservative positions on poverty have become even more salient in the wake of the November election. In a little over a month, Republicans will control the presidency and both chambers of Congress and have the ability to set the policy agenda.

These developments made the “This Way Up” conference in Washington, D.C. this past week an important window into center-right thinking on these issues. The two-day event – sponsored by Opportunity America in partnership with 10 other organizations, including the American Enterprise Institute and the Manhattan Institute – brought together conservative politicians and speakers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), National Review Senior Editor Ramesh Ponnuru, and Hillbilly Elegy author JD Vance for a series of speeches, panels, and discussions.

AEI President Arthur Brooks kicked off the convening with a keynote emphasizing the need for conservatives to think seriously about poverty and to consider creative solutions and approaches for addressing it.

There was wide agreement among attendees about the central importance of boosting economic growth, with the Manhattan Institute’s Scott Winship calling it our most important anti-poverty tool. Ryan emphasized “regulatory reform” as essential to jumpstarting the economy.

While acknowledging ideological differences, Ryan also stressed the value of finding areas where liberals and conservatives could come together, such as the Commission for Evidence-Based Policymaking, an initiative he launched in partnership with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) in March of 2016.

Other major areas of discussion and some agreement included reforming and potentially expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, finding ways to increase geographic mobility, criminal justice reform, and the importance of paid family leave and childcare.

There were also points of disagreement between participants and with the incoming Trump administration. Ponnuru expressed concern that Republican politicians had put too much emphasis on lowering top marginal tax rates to the detriment of other issues, and Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center argued that technology and automation, not the free trade policies criticized by President-elect Donald Trump, were the primary drivers of job loss in the Rust Belt.

The conversations, proposals, and debates at the summit will take on an increased urgency in the months ahead. As Opportunity America President Tamar Jacoby stressed in a recent Spotlight commentary, “the debate about poverty” is just starting “and whether or not you agree with everything on the center-right’s poverty agenda, these thinkers are going to bring new energy and new commitment to the fight.” Spotlight will continue to monitor these conversations and look to see how they influence policymaking in the years ahead.

Posted by Luke


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