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Aug. 1, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

On Fiscal Cliff, Progressives Issue Poverty Plea

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Democratic Rep. Mike Honda sought to use a letter organized by the Congressional Out of Poverty Caucus to contrast the two parties' approaches on poverty.

Amid talks about taxes slated to rise on "middle-income folks" and looming spending cuts on the defense sector, a group of liberal Democrats is urging Congressional leaders to focus on "the most vulnerable Americans."

"Cuts should not increase poverty in America or put children and families at greater risk of falling through the cracks," said a letter organized by the Congressional Out of Poverty Caucus and set to be released today.

The new push, coming just over a week after the conservative Republican Study Committee held a press conference alongside anti-poverty activists, marks a mini-boomlet of national discussion about poverty in the midst of a presidential campaign that has overwhelmingly focused on the middle class.

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) sought to use the letter, which so far has 60 signatures, to contrast the two parties' approaches on poverty.

"It is simply unfathomable that Paul Ryan's budget - which he claims is inspired by his Judeo-Christian faith - asks the most sacrifice from those with the least," Honda said in a statement. "That is why I'll be fighting tooth and nail against Republican Social Darwinism that would increase the number of Americans living in poverty and cripple our economy."

Democrats, who generally advocate more direct intervention by the federal government to assist individuals in poverty, have traditionally spoken about the poor with more fluency than Republicans, many of whom believe charity, not government, is the proper venue for assisting the needy.

But in the Barack Obama presidency, several factors have made the topic more sensitive politically.

First, although poverty affects African-Americans and Hispanics far more severely than whites, according to the National Poverty Center, Obama's status as the first black president has led to some rhetorical caution by their natural champions in Congress, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

"I have attempted as the chair during his first term to walk between the raindrops," CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (Mo.) told Roll Call in June [http://www.rollcall.com/issues/57_154/CBC-Faces-New-Challenges-to-Influence-215505-1.html]. "We want to do everything we can do to be supportive of the president. And at the same time, Members will say, we have been publicly critical of every president since Nixon and we damage our authenticity when we are silent on issues that our constituents have historically seen us challenge."

Secondly, and somewhat ironically, the dismal economy has pushed poverty from the larger political discussion, as both parties focus on the economic concerns of the middle class. "I'm not concerned about the very poor - we have a safety net there," GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney said in February, to criticism.

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