Obama: War on poverty made nation better

President Obama on Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of former President Lyndon Baines Johnson's "war on poverty" address by arguing government programs on education, healthcare and jobs have had a positive impact on the nation.

"These endeavors didn’t just make us a better country. They reaffirmed that we are a great country," Obama said in a statement. "They lived up to our best hopes as a people who value the dignity and potential of every human being."

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Obama credited programs like Social Security, Medicare and the Earned Income Tax Credit with lifting millions of people from poverty and preventing millions more from experiencing economic distress.

But the president also declared that the nation's work to provide a safety net is "far from over," and called on lawmakers to "redouble" efforts on the economy through an expansion of entitlement programs, government initiatives and raising the minimum wage.

"For all that has changed in the 50 years since President Johnson dedicated us to this economic and moral mission, one constant of our character has not: we are one nation and one people, and we rise or fall together," Obama said.

The anniversary of Johnson's speech dovetails with a renewed emphasis from the White House on the president's economic agenda ahead of this month's State of the Union address.

On Tuesday, the president pleaded with Congress to pass legislation that would restore emergency unemployment benefits to 1.3 million people during a speech at the White House. The measure, aided partially after the president personally lobbied swing Republicans in a series of phone calls, passed a crucial test vote in the Senate on Tuesday, although a steep climb remains for final passage.

The White House also announced Wednesday that the president would designate five "Promise Zones" — persistently impoverished communities that the government would help through tax incentives, housing assistance and education grants.

The five zones include San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, southeastern Kentucky and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

But Republicans have also sized on the 50th anniversary of the LBJ speech to provide their own vision for how to address poverty.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will speak Wednesday afternoon at the Brookings Institution on ways to reduce inequality through education.

The Virginia congressman is expected to argue that greater school choice is the "surest way" to eradicate poverty, while slamming federal education initiatives as "too slow, too sporadic and too ineffective." He'll also call on the Senate to take up a House bill that would return education oversight to the states and use federal funding for charter schools.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is expected to give a speech Wednesday from a Senate room named after Johnson, the chamber's longtime majority leader. He is expected to argue that creating and increasing incentives for individual success would improve economic mobility.

Over the weekend, Rubio released a video critical of Johnson's "war on poverty," saying it was time to declare the Democratic vision as "a failure."

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who served as the party's vice presidential candidate in 2012, is giving his own speech on poverty on Thursday.

Following his defeat last fall, the Budget Committee chairman has visited inner-city neighborhoods and huddled with conservative economic thinkers in hopes of developing a plan to replace some of the anti-poverty programs first implemented under Johnson.

Ryan is expected to unveil the legislative details of that plan later this year.