Steve Southerland and Dems tangle over how to fight poverty

January 9, 2014

With Wednesday marking the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson launching the federal “War on Poverty,” U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., took center stage for the Republicans and drew fire from the Democrats.

Southerland chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee’s (RSC) Anti-Poverty Initiative and, in that role, spoke to the media on Wednesday in Washington. Noting the federal government had spent more than $15 trillion, the North Florida congressman pointed to 46.5 million Americans still living in poverty and insisted big-government solutions weren’t working. 

“As we mark the 50th anniversary of America’s War on Poverty, it’s clear we are instead locked in battle of attrition that’s left more people in poverty than ever before,” said Southerland. “The big-government ideas of the past aren’t working.”

Southerland insisted conservative policies would be a far better alternative than increasing federal spending to combat poverty.

“History has taught us that bigger budgets aren’t going to solve America’s poverty challenges,” Southerland said. “That’s why House Republicans are committed to improving educational opportunities, strengthening two-parent families, and ensuring the long-lasting job growth necessary to provide vulnerable individuals with a renewed opportunity for earned success.”

Democrats quickly pounced in response. Southerland is considered one of the most vulnerable Republican congressmen in the nation and Democrats have high hopes for Gwen Graham, the daughter of iconic Florida politician Bob Graham, to beat him in November.

Andy Stone, a spokesman for Democratic super-PAC House Majority PAC, fired away at Southerland on Wednesday, reminding voters that the Republican had expressed discontent about his congressional salary and insisting GOP policies were not helping middle class Americans.

“Could Republicans have found a worse mouthpiece to try and defend their anti-middle class and working families policies than Steve Southerland?” demanded Stone. “After all, not only did Steve Southerland complain that his $174,000 a year, taxpayer-funded salary is ‘not so much,’ but Southerland voted to end Medicare as we know it, wants to privatize Social Security and risk seniors’ retirement savings on Wall Street, opposes an increase in the minimum wage and voted to cut $40 billion from nutrition assistance programs – all while forking over bigger tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires.”

Over on the Senate side, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., offered a major address on the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty.