Dems link Baltimore violence to dearth of government help

Democrats on and off Capitol Hill are linking the recent violence in Baltimore to a dearth of government programs aimed at allleviating poverty.

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They're calling for broader government commitments to education, workforce training, summer jobs programs and other initiatives aimed at fighting unemployment, while hammering the Republicans' new budget proposal for cutting those same measures

"There are a whole constellation of problems here, but there are some systematic underlying problems that should be addressed by government, both at the local level, the state level, the federal level," Rep. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenSenate Dems blast Barr for 'clear violation' of duty in Stone case, urge him to resign Senate Democrats introduce legislation to change impeachment trial rules Warren asks for probe of whether Trump violated law by delaying Puerto Rico funds MORE (Md.), senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said on CNN's "State of the Union" program.

The Republicans' budget, Van Hollen said, "will make poverty worse in places like Baltimore."

The debate over government's role in alleviating poverty has gained wide prominence in the wake of last month's death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, in the custody of Baltimore police. The tragedy led to huge protests in Baltimore's streets, where they turned violent last Monday night as rioters burned more than 100 cars and looted dozens of businesses.

Baltimore's top prosecutor on Friday deemed the death a homicide, charging six Baltimore police officers with murder and other crimes – charges rejected by the police union representing them.

Congressional Democrats are calling for a number of criminal justice reforms in the wake of the violence, including efforts to decriminalize minor drug offenses and expand the use of body cameras for law enforcers.

But they're also pushing the case that tragedies like Gray's death and the violence that followed could be prevented if government stepped up programs aimed at reducing unemployment, particularly in low-income minority communities.

"What we're talking about is lack of educational attainment," Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D) told CNN. "These are the issues that we really have to come to grips with."

Birmingham Mayor William Bell (D) echoed that message, arguing that the issue of poverty transcends race.

"This is not an African-American problem, this is not a Baltimore problem," he told CNN. "This is an American problem."

Republicans reject the notion that more government spending is the solution. Their budget, which passed through the House last week, aims to eliminate deficit spending over a decade with $5.3 trillion in cuts, largely to the very education and social programs the Democrats want boosted.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) warned Thursday that many of those programs create a "dependency" on government that just makes matters worse.

"Our government spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year on well-intentioned programs designed to help people get out of poverty. We've been doing this for decades," he said. "But from what we've seen around the country, it's clear that this approach is not working."

Van Hollen, who's announced a Senate bid in Maryland, was quick to push back against such arguments, saying poverty would be much worse if the government programs, many launched during the Great Society era under President Lyndon Johnson, weren't in place.

"Absolutely we need to do a lot more, but it has not been a failure," Van Hollen said. "If you did not have the Great Society war on poverty, 40 million more Americans would be in poverty.

"So we have made gains," Van Hollen said. "But we have a long ways to go."