Will Social Innovation Become a 2016 Presidential Campaign Issue?

Anti-poverty issues and income inequality may be becoming presidential campaign issues if the rhetoric coming from potential 2016 aspirants in recent days is any gauge. Will evidence-based social policy and innovation rise along with them?

The talk began with the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, who has strongly signaled over the past few days that he is considering a 2016 presidential race. According to a report in Politico:

Romney, who made a fortune in the financial sector and was cast by Democrats in 2012 as a heartless businessman, wants to make tackling poverty — a key issue for his 2012 vice presidential running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan — one of the three pillars of his campaign.

Romney is not alone. Several other potential candidates also appear to be adopting economic inequality as a campaign talking point. Such statements may be a mixed blessing, raising the profile of poverty and income inequality issues, but also politicizing them in advance of a presidential campaign year.

But in the aftermath of the president’s State of the Union speech earlier this week, Ryan himself struck a different tone. According to The New York Times:

Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the Ways and Means chairman and perhaps the Republican Party’s leading voice on poverty issues, praised the president’s “gifted speech” on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and said he was glad Mr. Obama had “dialed down on the partisan class-warfare rhetoric.”

Mr. Ryan said accord could be reached on ways to reduce poverty by expanding the earned-income tax credit to childless adults, as he and the president have proposed, and drafting a public works bill aimed at modernizing an aging infrastructure.

“I just hope that the tone continues that makes it easier for us to reach common ground,” Mr. Ryan said.

Ryan said on Monday that he would not be seeking the presidency in 2016, preferring instead to focus on his work as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Ryan released a major anti-poverty plan last summer that contains several performance and evidence-based proposals. As chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, he is expected to move legislation, informally dubbed “Welfare Reform 2.0,” in the current session of Congress.

Feb 5 Update

While Mitt Romney has announced that he will not be seeking the presidency, Jeb Bush is among those who have picked up the focus on helping the poor. According to a story published today in Politico:

“We have a record number of Americans on food stamps and living in poverty,” Bush told the Detroit Economic Club on Wednesday in his first major policy speech since he got serious about running for president. “The opportunity gap is the defining issue of our time. More Americans are stuck at their income levels than ever before. It’s very hard for people to go from the bottom rungs of the economy to the top. Or even to the middle. This should alarm you.”

Bush is not alone:

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, meanwhile, proposed a series of policies to help low-income families in his book that came out last month. One idea is to offer federal wage supplements to people who make below a certain income. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has spoken in moral terms of the need to expand Medicaid and enact policies for the mentally ill that irk some on the right. And former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum wrote an entire book last year about why the party must do more to help blue-collar voters.

Other interesting points from the piece:

Peter Wehner, a veteran of the last three Republican White Houses who advised Romney in 2012, said Republicans have a “moral obligation” to help the poor. But it’s also good politics, he said. In 2000, for example, George W. Bush criticized congressional Republicans for trying to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. That was not about winning over low-income voters but showing suburban women that the then-Texas governor really was the compassionate conservative that he said.


“This goes back to the Jack Kemp DNA part of the Republican Party: The whole point of a prosperous economy is everybody gets to prosper,” said GOP pollster David Winston … This is part of a bigger, policy-driven embrace of a movement known as “reform conservatism” — the idea that the party needs to offer fresh ideas, not just the stale ones that used to win elections of the past.


Democrats say the GOP pivot on poverty amounts to window dressing and argue the party can’t escape the fact that its policies are tilted toward the rich. Barack Obama himself chimed in last week.

“Even though their policies haven’t quite caught up yet, their rhetoric is starting to sound pretty Democratic,” Obama told a House Democratic retreat in Philadelphia. “We have a former presidential candidate on the other side [who is] suddenly deeply concerned about poverty. That’s great, let’s go. Let’s do something about it!”


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