House Dems launch '18 anti-poverty tour

House Dems launch '18 anti-poverty tour
© Greg Nash

Seeking to harness economic anxieties heading into November’s midterms, House Democrats on Thursday launched an anti-poverty tour designed to highlight the plight of the poor under Republican control of Congress and the White House.

Led by Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeRussia probe accelerates political prospects for House Intel Dems Overnight Defense: Officials rush to deny writing anonymous op-ed | Lawmakers offer measure on naming NATO headquarters after McCain | US, India sign deal on sharing intel Dems plan resolution to withdraw US forces from Yemen civil war MORE (D-Calif.), who heads the party’s anti-poverty task force, the members are making the case that the growing economy has affected America’s classes disproportionately, showering the wealthy with handsome benefits while leaving lower-income people behind. The trend has only been exacerbated by Republican economic policies, contend the Democrats, who are seeking alternative legislative solutions aimed at boosting the financial fortunes of the country’s poorest people.

“When you look at many of the budget cuts that they’ve proposed, more people would fall below the poverty line,” Lee said Thursday by phone.

“Their trickle-down theories on economics, it doesn’t work.”

Lee has a high-powered partner on the tour in Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDems' confidence swells with midterms fast approaching Trump's Puerto Rico tweets spark backlash Hoyer lays out government reform blueprint MORE (Md.), the Democratic whip, who’s pointing to the Republicans’ tax reform law as evidence that Republicans are less concerned with deficit spending than they are with cutting federal programs, many of them designed to help the poor.

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“They borrowed $1.5 trillion and gave it to the people who are already very, very well off in our country, and [left] very little for either those in the middle class or who are struggling to get into the middle class,” Hoyer said in a phone call Thursday. “They put the country deeply into debt, and then they’re going to argue, as they always have, ‘Oh, we don’t have any money for programs either on education, health care, housing' — critically important programs to help people make it.” 

Lee and Hoyer plan to launch the tour Friday in Dallas, where they’ll meet with residents living in poverty and advocates fighting to alleviate it. Joined by two Democratic Dallas-based lawmakers, Reps. Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonWomen poised to take charge in Dem majority DHS declined to let officials testify at hearing on cell surveillance, chairman says EPA says it abandoned plan for office in Pruitt’s hometown MORE (Texas) and Marc VeaseyMarc Allison VeaseyOvernight Defense: VA pick breezes through confirmation hearing | House votes to move on defense bill negotiations | Senate bill would set 'stringent' oversight on North Korea talks Bipartisan solution is hooked on facts, not fiction House Dems launch '18 anti-poverty tour MORE (Texas), the lawmakers are seeking anti-poverty strategies they can eventually forge into specific policy proposals.

“We’re going to see what we find, we’re going to come back … and we’re going to see whether there are programs that, in fact, need to either be expanded, programs that may not be working as well as we want, and investments we that need to make in education and job-training in order to get people into a place where they’re succeeding,” Hoyer said.

Aside from the tax law, the Democrats are hammering Republicans for rejecting a minimum wage hike and a recent proposal, contained in the farm bill, which is predicted to cut millions of people off of the federal food stamp program. 

“That’s not going to help lift people out of poverty, but create more poverty,” Lee said.

Outlining the class divisions, researchers at the Urban Institute have found that, over the last five decades, families living near the bottom of the wealth spectrum (those in the 10th percentile) have lost ground and are now living in debt, while those at the top (the 99th percentile) have increased their wealth by five times. Race is a major factor governing the disparities, the researchers emphasized, as white families are much more successful than black families in growing wealth as they age.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHannity urges Trump not to fire 'anybody' after Rosenstein report Ben Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate MORE, on the campaign trail, had promised to fight for struggling families, vowing to grow the economy by 4 percent — or more — if he reached the White House. And he’s been quick to take credit for the stock market gains and falling unemployment under his watch. The tax bill, he says, will provide an additional boon, sparking a blizzard of new economic growth that will ultimately benefit taxpayers of all incomes. 

“Best economy in decades, lowest unemployment numbers for Blacks and Hispanics EVER (& women in 18years), rebuilding our Military and so much more. Nice!” Trump tweeted on Memorial Day. 

But the Commerce Department on Wednesday downgraded growth in the first quarter of the year to 2.2 percent. And recent polls hint that economic insecurity remains a nagging concern for most people. A Morning Consult/Politico survey released Thursday found that while 51 percent of voters are optimistic about the economy generally, the same percentage are less confident about their personal finances.

Democrats, eying a House takeover in November, have hoped to build on those anxieties with a 2018 platform focused on fundamental pocketbook issues such as creating jobs, training a modern-day workforce and lowering the cost of prescription drugs. Their anti-poverty tour, while not falling directly under their “Better Deal” banner, is nonetheless an extension of the message that they’re the party fighting for the little guy. 

“We’re trying to elevate this whole issue of poverty, in Congress, and bring communities living really shamefully, below the poverty line because of wage and economic inequality to the forefront of our policies,” Lee said. 

After Dallas, the Democrats will continue their tour in the coming weeks with other stops around the country.

Hoyer acknowledged that, with Republicans controlling Congress, any legislation arising from the listening sessions has no chance of moving this year. But the hope, he said, is that the tour will guide the Democrats’ agenda if they win back the House in 2019.

“I do expect this to be a foundation for seeing what legislation needs to be suggested for the next Congress,” he said.