A small group of Republican senators launched an effort Wednesday to address poverty and expand economic opportunities, as some GOP leaders seek to make inequality an issue for their party.
“Often we rush to talk, but we decided that we would listen,” said Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. He described how he and the four other members of the new Senate Opportunity Coalition visited distressed communities in their states over the summer recess to listen to their needs and start talking about solutions.
Scott has been focused on issues of poverty, and particularly education, during his time in the Senate. He has also sought to foster conversations about solving poverty within his party. In January, Scott and Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., hosted a poverty forum with several of the GOP presidential candidates to discuss the issue.
The eventual Republican nominee, Donald Trump, did not attend the forum, but Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., did. Rubio, currently running for re-election to the Senate, said Wednesday that conservatives need to present solutions for people facing dire economic conditions.
“Of course eventually in order to pass laws, change laws, change policy, you’re going to need bipartisan support for this,” Rubio said.
“I think our goal initially is to ensure that the conservative movement, those of us who believe in limited government and free enterprise, have answers and ideas with regard to this issue and that it’s being coordinated in that way,” Rubio said.
The Senate group follows action on the House side of the Capitol, where Ryan unveiled an anti-poverty agenda earlier this year. The coalition is decidedly conservative and includes Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma, Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Joni Ernst of Iowa. But Scott did not close the door on the possibility of Democrats participating.
“I think we will work with anyone at any time, anywhere who want to solve the problem of opportunity and poverty,” Scott said.
Scott said the senators were not going to rush to build a legislative agenda. Instead they would try and understand better how poverty affects different parts of the country.
Lankford said the group will also look at solutions that affect a wide swath of the population and address the impediments to rising out of poverty. Sullivan added that one goal is to put a human face on poverty, not just talk about the economic statistics.
The group came together after attending an event Scott held earlier this year with dozens of students from the Anacostia neighborhood, a struggling area in the nation’s capital, Scott explained. The lawmakers also built upon existing relationships forged in the House and on the presidential campaign trail to forge their new coalition.
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