Spotlight Exclusives

Kemp Forum Highlights Bipartisan Opportunities for Addressing Poverty

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In a campaign often marked by divisive rhetoric, last weekend’s Kemp Forum represented a welcome respite – a serious discussion of policy that also underlined the need for bipartisan cooperation.

Over the weekend, six Republican presidential candidates convened in South Carolina to discuss plans for addressing poverty in America. Hosted by The Jack Kemp Foundation and moderated by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), the Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity covered a range of poverty-related topics, from education reform to the minimum wage. While the participating candidates were lauded for their “cordial and substantive discussion,” of particular note were the moments of the event recognizing bipartisan support for expanding opportunity.

In his opening remarks to the third panel of the day, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) explicitly outlined the need for bipartisan cooperation, expressing a desire in 2016 for “a coming together of the Republican and Democratic parties” on ending poverty.

Addressing entrepreneurship, Scott pointed to the need for “more entrepreneurs in communities to truly have an impact on poverty.” Responding, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) concurred, arguing for a simpler tax code as a solution. Joining, Ohio Gov. John Kasich raised that overregulation stymies local banks from investing in businesses. Former Gov. Jeb Bush looked to improving public safety in “communities with increasing crime rates” as a measure for promoting entrepreneurship while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie raised the need for greater access to affordable financing.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) was among one of the other notable areas of consensus. Ryan, a long-time proponent of a set of reforms to strengthen the EITC, argued for the need to address program fraud at the federal level and to ensure that the tax credit is, in fact, properly supporting recipients and incentivizing work.

Christie agreed, citing New Jersey’s own tightened tax fraud investigations and recent increases in the state’s own tax credit, approved in July by the Democratic-controlled legislature and signed by Christie shortly after. Likewise, Bush highlighted a need for expanding the EITC to younger and single filer workers as a workforce engagement measure, while Kasich touted his own expansion efforts in Ohio. Notably, Dr. Ben Carson dissented from the field, calling the EITC a “manipulation” of the tax code.

While debates featuring the Democratic presidential field have not focused on EITC, it is one anti-poverty measure that has historically seen wide bipartisan support, and the leading Democratic candidates have been supportive in the past.

Scott pressed the candidates on criminal justice reform, which Ryan acknowledged as an area of bipartisan consensus. Kasich detailed his state’s own key policy reforms, which he claims halved the statewide recidivism rate to half the national average. These measures included a “ban the box” initiative, collateral sanctions, education and career development programs for adults and at-risk youths, and drug rehabilitative services in detention centers. Mike Huckabee weighed in, arguing for the need to treat addiction as a precursor to criminal behavior.

On the left, Democrats join Republicans in supporting criminal justice reform. In her criminal justice policy agenda, Hillary Clinton has stated support for promoting successful re-entry, supporting the “ban the box” initiative, and taking action against mandatory minimum sentences, particularly for nonviolent drug offenders. Martin O’Malley similarly supports “ban the box” and other initiatives aimed at combating employer bias toward Americans with criminal records. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) has been vocal about mass incarceration in America and supported reform efforts for mandatory minimum sentencing and prison rehabilitation programs.

While a focused discussion is a positive first step, translating these viewpoints on alleviating poverty into concrete, consensus policy proposals could be critical to advancing opportunity in America. During his final State of the Union address to the nation Tuesday night, President Obama mirrored this sentiment, stating, “I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty. America is about giving everybody willing to work a hand up, and I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers without kids.”

Spotlight will continue to monitor these and other developments over the coming months as the 2016 election fast approaches.

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