Ryan, black lawmakers, may join forces on poverty plan

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Speaker Paul Ryan (Wis.) and other top Republicans are taking a serious look at adopting a sweeping anti-poverty plan long championed by black Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Ryan has told the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) he’s pressing GOP appropriators to consider the CBC’s strategy of shifting more federal money to parts of the country with persistent poverty.

{mosads}Rep. Hal Rogers, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, is on board. The Kentucky Republican said he’s looking seriously at the targeted funding approach as the Republicans craft their spending bills for fiscal 2017.

“I’m very interested,” Rogers told The Hill.

Ryan is placing more emphasis on alleviating poverty in a presidential election year when the GOP desperately needs to make inroads with minorities. He has expressed regret about not talking more about poverty during his vice presidential run in 2012 and is seeking to rectify that mistake now that he’s the top-ranking Republican on Capitol Hill.

At Ryan’s request, Rogers said he intends to broach the topic of targeted poverty funding with Rep. James —Clyburn (D-S.C.), an influential CBC member who’s been the most vocal proponent of the so-called 10-20-30 strategy. 

Clyburn’s model would direct at least 10 percent of federal spending on discretionary programs to communities where at least 20 percent of the population has lived below the poverty line for at least the last 30 years.

“I talked to Jim Clyburn about this a year ago, I guess. But we’ve never really finalized anything,” Rogers said. “But the Speaker did ask me if I’d be interested in talking to him. And I am. So we’ll be talking with Clyburn. … We’ll look at what he’s put together.”

“I’m not settled on anything yet,” Rogers added. “That’s why we have to look at it.”

Adoption of the targeted funding plan would be something of a coup for Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat who’s been pushing the strategy for years.

In 2009, he was successful in attaching a version of that plan to the economic stimulus bill. The provision mandated that at least 10 percent of rural development funds go to communities of persistent poverty. But that requirement has since expired, and subsequent attempts to expand that approach across all agencies have gone largely ignored by GOP leaders. 

Not this year.

Ryan met on Wednesday with members of the CBC, and the 10-20-30 plan was a central focus, according to a number of lawmakers in attendance. Ryan’s office has declined to reveal the details of that discussion, citing “the private conversation.” But the Democrats have been more vocal.

“He gave us a commitment that [10-20-30] is on his radar and that he understands the value of targeted funding,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), chairman of the CBC, said after the meeting. “It’s a bipartisan issue that we need to work on. And he acknowledged it, and we have a commitment from him that he’s actively working on a path forward for some type of legislation.”

Clyburn echoed that message.

“The Speaker expressed pretty firm support for this concept,” Clyburn said Friday by phone. “He indicated that he would be sitting down with the appropriators, with Rogers, to see how this can be implemented.”

It’s not the first time Ryan has expressed interest in the targeted funding approach. In early 2014, when he was chairman of the Budget Committee, Ryan met with the CBC in search of common ground in the fight against poverty. That meeting disappointed many CBC members; both the sides departed in broad disagreement about specific policy prescriptions. But the glaring exception was Ryan’s openness to the 10-20-30 program. 

“We’re going to sit down and talk more about [it],” Ryan said at the time.

The discussion never progressed much after that. But CBC leaders think that’s because Ryan was bound by the dictates of then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), whose reputation for strong-arming the committees fueled the conservative angst that ultimately pushed him to resign last fall.

With Ryan now holding the gavel, the Democrats say, the targeted funding push has new legs.

“He wasn’t Speaker then, but now he can make it happen. … The dynamics have changed,” Butterfield said. “If the Speaker wants it to happen, I believe it can happen.” 

There’s a practical reason for GOP leaders to embrace the 10-20-30 approach: Of the hundreds of counties that would be covered under the formula, a vast majority are represented by Republicans. It’s a dynamic that hasn’t been overlooked by Ryan, who told the CBC last week that Republican districts stand to benefit most, according to several members.

“He said, ‘Look, I understand there’s more Republican districts would be impacted than Democratic,’ ” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a former CBC chairman, said afterwards.

“And we said, ‘Yeah, we’ve been trying to tell you guys that for years.’ ” 

It’s unclear how many regions would be directly affected by the targeted funding plan. Citing U.S. census data spanning 1980 to 2011, the Agriculture Department has outlined 353 persistently poor counties nationwide. Most of them are in Appalachia, the Deep South and the Indian reservations of the West. 

Clyburn cites a much higher number, saying 492 counties would benefit from his plan — 372 of them represented by a Republican. 

“This is not about partisan politics. This is about this country’s resources going into communities of need,” Clyburn said. “[We’re] talking about poverty. Not black poverty, not white poverty, but poverty.”

Still, Democrats would also fare well under the plan largely because the persistently impoverished counties they represent tend to be populous urban regions.

Indeed, when Clyburn attached the 10-20-30 provision to the 2009 stimulus bill, Democrats represented 149 of the persistent poverty counties, with a total population of 8.8 million, according to Clyburn. Republicans represented 311 of those counties, with a total population of 8.3 million. (Fourteen counties, with a total population of 5.3 million, had split representation.) 

Clyburn said it’s also unclear how such a system might be adopted legislatively — whether the Republicans would need to adopt it as part of their budget resolution or if the appropriations panels would take it up afterward.

But those are details to be worked out when he sits down with Rogers, Clyburn said. He’s hoping that meeting comes soon.

“It’ll take place as soon as I get there on Tuesday, if he’s got the time,” Clyburn said. “I’ll go to his office as soon as I get off the plane.”

Tags Boehner G.K. Butterfield John Boehner Paul Ryan

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