Rubio: 'Significant Number of Americans' Don't Have 'Equality of Opportunity'

By Susan Jones | January 13, 2014 | 5:23am EST

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a Cuban-American, speaks about the "American dream" on the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s first State of the Union address in 1964, where LBJ committed the government to a war on poverty, on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo)

( - "Why was it good politics to go to the Lyndon Johnson room in the U.S. Capitol and say that Lyndon Johnson's (anti-poverty) programs had been a failure?" Bob Schieffer, host of CBS's "Face the Nation," asked Sen. Marco Rubio on Sunday.

The Florida Republican, who outlined his plan for fighting poverty in a speech last week, said this is an issue he's been talking about for most of the past decade.

"And the reason is, I myself am but a generation removed from poverty and despair," Rubio said. "And the reason why I live a better life is because my parents had the opportunity to come to a place where people like them had the opportunity to improve their lives.

"I think that is still true for the majority of Americans, but I think it would be wrong not to recognize that there is a significant number of Americans that do not have equality of opportunity.

"That is not a political issue. That is something that threatens what makes us exceptional and different from the rest of the world. We need to address that. We need to address the fact that we have 40-some-odd-million people who feel trapped in poverty and do not feel like they have an equal opportunity to get ahead. And I don't view that as a partisan issue or an electoral one. I think it goes to the heart of what it means to be (American)."

Rubio said anti-poverty programs may alleviate the "consequences of poverty," but they don't lift people out of poverty, and he said that's why he believes the war on poverty has failed.

He said the nation has not taken the next step -- "which is to help people trapped with inequality of opportunity to have the opportunities to build for themselves a
better life."

Rubio advocates turning the money for federal anti-poverty programs over to the states, which could better spend it where it's most needed.

"I'm actually saying that what we should do is take the existing federal funding that we use for some of these programs -- and we're still working through which ones those should be -- collapse them into one central federal agency that would then transfer that money to fund innovative state programs that address the same issues. But (unlike the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare), it would be funded. It wouldn't be something where states are told, you get the money for a few years and then we'll back away. And it should be revenue neutral."

In his speech last Wednesday, Rubio noted that many of the low-skill jobs that once provided millions of Americans with a middle class lifestyle have been wiped out due to outsourcing, automation, or some other reason.

But he also noted that "social factors" play a major role: "The truth is, the greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82%. But it isn’t a government spending program. It’s called marriage."

He also pointed to a lack of education as a contributing factor to income inequality.

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