House Speaker Paul Ryan wants to give anti-poverty legislation a prominent spot on the Republican agenda in 2016, a move that would give the party ownership of a traditionally Democratic issue and put it prominently in the congressional spotlight for the first time in decades.
Republicans last took the lead on welfare reform two decades ago and hope to do it again this year, kicking off the effort at a major anti-poverty forum Saturday in Columbia, S.C., hosted by Ryan and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.
In addition to Ryan and Scott, most of the GOP presidential candidates plan to jump off the campaign trail to participate, with the notable exception of front-runner Donald Trump.
"The high level of candidate interest indicates that our party is not willing to concede this issue to the Democrats," Ryan said Friday in a Wall Street Journal op-ed co-authored with Scott. "We see Saturday's forum as our party's chance to stop carping from the cheap seats and to get into the driver's seat. By offering real solutions, Republicans can define the proper role of the federal government in the 21st century and show the country what a true opportunity agenda looks like."
House Republicans say they like the idea of taking on poverty.
"It's a really smart thing to do," Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., told the Washington Examiner. "There needs to be a Republican way to address everything from poverty to unequal income distribution, and if there's a way to find that way and package it in a way that is intellectually coherent and politically appealing, I think Ryan is the person to do it."