Democrats Warm Up for a "War on Poverty" With Republicans on Capitol Hill

Congressional Democrats say the Republican budget hurts the poor.

(Photo: Courtesy of Gwen Moore)

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisconsin) thinks that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), who chairs the House Budget Committee and is in line to become the next chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, is "a nice guy." The budget he proposed earlier this month is not, Moore and other Democratic lawmakers say.

Facing a tough midterm election cycle, they're hoping that the budget's proposed cuts, which they argue help the rich by hurting the poor, will be an issue for Americans as they head to the polls in November.

"Budgets reflect our priorities. They show what we care about and they show what we care less about," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) told reporters on a conference call Tuesday.

The Republican budget proposal, he added, protects the nation's wealthiest and powerful special interest groups and knocks down ladders of opportunity for middle income and struggling working class families. Communities of color, he said, are hit hardest.

According to Moore, who sits on the Budget Committee, middle-income families will face higher taxes and minorities who are disproportionately poorer will lose health, education and other benefits that will have a chilling impact.

Raising the minimum wage, which congressional Republicans oppose, would lift 6 million workers out of poverty, Moore said, 60 percent of whom would be people of color. It also would raise wages for African-Americans by $5.2 billion.

A measure in the budget to cut Pell grants by $145 million would reduce the availability of the federal financial aid program to 60 percent of African-American graduates, the Wisconsin lawmaker added, which also threatens the nation's competitiveness by making it more costly for all Americans to pursue higher education.

Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-California) sits on the Ways and Means panel with Ryan. She said that Republicans's claims that they want to attack specific problems are not sincere. Instead of seeking middle ground, she said, their solution is to cut programs that help those who need it most.

"There has not been a high level of engagement and sadly I find that most of their desires to want to help the vast majority of Americans is just lip service," she told reporters. "It's sad because there's bipartisanship that can happen and common ground that we can find, but they seem more interested in sticking to an ideological high ground than coming up with practical solutions."

The Congressional Black Caucus, Moore warned, isn't going to let Ryan or his budget off so easily.

Last month, Ryan stirred controversy after suggesting on a conservative talk radio program that men in urban communities have no work ethic.

There is a "tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning to value the culture of work," he said on Bill Bennett's Morning in America program.

Ryan later said he'd been "inarticulate." The 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee also agreed to engage in a substantive conversation with the Congressional Black Caucus about poverty and ways to solve it. Moore said they're going to challenge his assumptions and present him with some specific goals.

"His take on talking about poverty is to say we spent billions and trillions of dollars on poverty programs and poverty won. We see that essentially as sort of playing with statistics and numbers because, in fact, poverty programs helped bring people into the middle class and have literally been a lifeline to millions of people," she added.

It's a conversation that CBC members are looking forward to having. The meeting reportedly will take place next week, ironically on the same day that the Budget Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the "War on Poverty."

"We're not going to let him get away with a sleight of hand on this," Moore said. "We know how to crunch numbers as well."

Follow Joyce Jones on Twitter: @BETpolitichick.

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