Rubio, Ryan and Paul Compete to Be the Most Compassionate Conservative

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Depending on how cynical you are, Republicans have either noticed they won't win elections without caring about poor people, or they've realized they have a lot of "opportunity" to offer.

Three of the GOP's 2016 presidential hopefuls will present or have already presented anti-poverty plans this week. On Thursday Rep. Paul Ryan unveiled his budget plan to expand opportunity in America. The day before, Sen. Marco Rubio pitched his ideas on social reforms, and on Friday Sen. Rand Paul will focus on helping ex-cons escape the cycle of prison and poverty. 

As The Washington Post's Zachary Goldfarb wrote Thursday, this is all a major shift from the "47 percent" GOP of the 2012 presidential election. While it's dangerous for conservatives to show compassion — especially on issues like immigration, as Rep. Eric Cantor learned — it's also dangerous to appear not to care about low-income families. Or as Ryan put it, “I think conservatives have a lot to offer here and we have ignored this space for too long." Here's breakdown of the main points of each plan: 

Rep. Paul Ryan

During a speech Thursday at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank, Ryan introduced a plan that would consolidate federal funding for 11 safety net programs into one lump sum, according to MSNBC. States that opted for the "opportunity grant" would then be able to disburse the aid between the programs as they saw fit. “We’re reconceiving the federal government’s role,” Ryan said. 

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The plan would require participants to meet certain work requirements and doesn't call for massive cuts to the social programs. In fact, it calls for expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for working, childless adults by cutting energy subsidies for business — in his words “corporate welfare.” Neil Irwin at The New York Times notes that raising the EITC wouldn't change people's lives, "but it is at least something concrete that could put more money in the pockets of working low-income Americans, even if some of Mr. Ryan’s ideological companions don’t like it." Ryan's plan would also expand charter schools and voucher programs, and introduce sentencing reform for non-violent and low risk criminals. 

Sen. Marco Rubio 

Rubio meant to discuss a plan very similar to Ryan's — one that would expand school choice, consolidate funding for safety net programs and replace the EITC with a wage supplement — but he got distracted by a different kind of “equality of opportunity." While addressing the audience at Catholic University, Rubio spoke out against gay marriage, arguing that he believes straight marriage deserves "to be elevated in our laws." At one point he remarked that, “even before this speech is over, I will be attacked as someone who is a hater or a bigot or someone who is antigay,” he predicted. He almost certainly won't be widely praised for being compassionate. 

Sen. Rand Paul

Rand Paul told Politico that his Friday speech at the National Urban League will include “school choice, vouchers, charter schools, you name it — I think we need innovation.” Paul has definitely led the pack as far as Republicans attempting to reach out to low income minority communities. He and Democratic Sen. Cory Booker recently co-sponsored a bill to help low level offenders re-enter the work place. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.