Congressional Republicans, fingers to the wind, are ready to do something about poverty and the income gap. Not extending unemployment insurance or raising the minimum wage, probably, but something. TBD. So far, the party hasn't united around much besides "the Democrats are wrong."
The Washington Post outlines the GOP's new focus on the subject, even if there's no clarity on where it's headed. High-profile members of Congress will spend the week unveiling their plans.
- Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (who is probably going to run for president) will give a speech on Wednesday with his plan for curtailing poverty.
- Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (who is probably going to run for president) will go on NBC on Thursday to discuss poverty, as he'd been pledging to do.
- Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (who is probably going to run for president) recently traveled to Detroit to help the Michigan Republican Party open its African-American voter outreach center, suggesting in a speech that the city introduce "economic freedom zones" to create jobs.
- House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (not likely to run!) will give a speech Wednesday pitching school choice — read, vouchers — as a solution to poverty.
Each of the 2016ers obviously hopes to step into a leadership role on the issue. In the absence of a party leader — or, on the House side, a relatively weak one — it's an open position. The Post story was co-written by Robert Costa, the reporter who became famous for his insights into the House GOP during the shutdown. On Twitter, Costa was more blunt about the proposals. "The challenge" for Republicans, he wrote, " is that as they ramp up antipoverty message, they remain inconclusive on next legislative steps." That's at least four different, likely overlapping plans above. It's hard not to compare this to the party's immigration push in the beginning of 2013. Republicans recognized that they needed to have a plan, but party factionalism ultimately meant that nothing got done.
There are elements of the GOP that are understandably skeptical of making the issue a political priority. In another tweet, Costa suggests that the push is meant to motivate the Republican base for 2014. If history is any guide, the party doesn't need to mobilize its 2014 base; in an off-year election, it can almost certainly count on a more conservative electorate. The idea, it seems, is that the Republicans can pivot the Democrats' recent focus on economic issues into talking about economic opportunity and social mobility — which could be particularly helpful for those looking to craft a message for 2016.
But that would be a big pivot. As the Post notes, economic issues are generally seen as "playing on Democrats’ home turf." The new focus on economic issues is almost certainly a response to the Democrats' recent focus on the issue, a focus to which the Republicans have proven generally hostile. President Obama will speak on Tuesday morning in support of renewing unemployment benefits for those who've been out of work for more than half a year — a push that is likely to be killed by a Republican Senate filibuster even before he speaks. (Update: It wasn't!) (On the House side, Speaker John Boehner has demanded any extension be offset by spending cuts elsewhere.) A more distant fight over raising the minimum wage is more politically tricky, but seems, at this point, unlikely to garner broad support from the party.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the party's campaign arm for Senate candidates, offered its campaign priority in a memo this morning: talk about Obamacare. "No doubt, the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare certainly is a challenge for Democratic candidates," the NRSC's Brad Dayspring writes, "but far more toxic is the blatant dishonesty that it has exposed." This has been the party playbook for more than a year, largely because the party is still deeply split between its conservative and very conservative wings. In the absence of unified Republican priorities, the party is united in one thing: opposition to the Democrats. Which, we'll note, has actually proven pretty effective at mobilizing the party's base.