Momentum builds for Clyburn poverty plan

Momentum builds for Clyburn poverty plan
© Moriah Ratner

Seven years in the making, Democratic South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn’s anti-poverty plan has found powerful friends — and a real shot at passage — in this year’s government spending debate.

Leading Republicans have in the past supported Clyburn’s targeted spending approach, which would funnel more federal dollars to the most poverty-stricken parts of the country. 

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Now those same GOP leaders — who had adopted Clyburn’s formula to govern more than a dozen federal programs earlier in the year — are vowing to fight for those same provisions as part of the budget debate Congress is poised to have in December.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is among the leading champions of Clyburn’s concept.

“Several of our House bills included these types of provisions, and they are a priority for the Chairman,” Jennifer Hing, a committee spokeswoman, said this week. “The Committee will of course push to complete all of our bills before the end of the year.”

Rogers is hardly alone. Speaker Paul RyanPaul Ryan3 reasons Devin Nunes must step away from the Trump probe Wounded Ryan faces new battle Can Trump rebound after failure on healthcare bill? MORE (R-Wis.) has long touted Clyburn’s targeted funding strategy as a logical approach to poverty alleviation. As GOP leaders head into the year’s final spending fights — and as they scramble to attract minority voters ahead of November’s general elections — Ryan sees Clyburn’s plan as an effective complement to the anti-poverty measures promoted in his “Better Way” agenda. 

“It’s a good piece of a big puzzle on how to fix our poverty problems,” Ryan said in a Sept. 6 interview with Stan Milam, a local Wisconsin radio host. “If we’re going to be spending money in communities to benefit people, it should clearly be targeted toward those low-income communities, not toward income areas like suburbs.

“Jim is just basically applying common sense. Common sense should not be partisan,” Ryan said. “And so we want to apply his basic formula to [discretionary] spending.”

Leaders are unlikely to apply Clyburn’s formula to the stopgap spending bill they are working on to avoid a government shutdown on Oct 1.

But the formula seems likely to reemerge during the post-election lame-duck session, when Ryan and GOP leaders are vowing a series of “minibus” spending bills to extend 2017 funding through next September.

Known as the “10-20-30 plan,” Clyburn’s model operates under the premise that federal development dollars are best spent in the areas of greatest need. Under his formula, federal programs would have to direct at least 10 percent of their funds to communities where at least 20 percent of the population has lived below the poverty line for at least the last 30 years.

Building support for the plan has been a years-long exercise. While Clyburn was able to attach the formula to four rural development programs as part of President Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill, those provisions have long since expired, without much talk of renewal.

This year, though, was different. Ryan, after several meetings with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to discuss anti-poverty measures, was already a fan of the targeted spending approach. When he rose to Speaker, he asked Rogers to sit down with Clyburn in search of common ground. 

The talks bore fruit, and House Republicans applied the 10-20-30 formula to 17 federal programs as part of their 2017 appropriations process — bills that passed on the House floor but didn’t go anywhere in the Senate. The affected programs include initiatives as diverse as rural development, housing assistance, waste water disposal, energy development, broadband expansion and programs to help state and local law enforcers manage drug cases.

“The sky’s the limit,” Clyburn told The Hill. “And it doesn’t contribute at all to the deficit, simply because you aren’t adding on 10 percent, you’re dedicating 10 percent.”

It’s unclear how open Senate appropriators are to the targeted approach. The office of Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad CochranThad CochranOvernight Defense: FBI chief confirms Trump campaign, Russia probe | Senators push for Afghan visas | Problems persist at veterans' suicide hotline Senators ask to include visas for Afghans in spending bill Shutdown politics return to the Senate MORE (R-Miss.) declined to comment this week. The office of Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiAfter 30 years celebrating women’s history, have we made enough progress? DC restaurant owners sue Trump hotel over unfair competition: report Meet the Trump pick who could lead Russia probe MORE (Md.), the senior Democrat on the panel, did not respond to requests for comment. 

Meanwhile, the issue has made its way to the presidential trail, where Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonSchumer confronts wealthy Trump supporter in restaurant: report With GOP’s healthcare bill on ice, Dems go on offense Trump asks why Clintons' ties to Russia aren't under investigation MORE, the Democratic nominee, has repeatedly endorsed the 10-20-30 plan, particularly when she’s speaking to African-American audiences.