Likely GOP Candidates Say They Are Worried About Income Inequality, Push Policies That Worsen It

Most Republican presidential candidates, announced and unannounced, support for-profit schools. CREDIT: AP PHOTO
Most Republican presidential candidates, announced and unannounced, support for-profit schools. CREDIT: AP PHOTO

As members of the Republican Party have begun establishing their messaging for the 2016 election, likely candidates are expressing concerns over the country’s treatment of the working class poor.

At an event hosted by the billionaire Koch brothers on Sunday, three likely Republican presidential contenders tried to tie President Obama’s economic policies to worsening income inequality. “Republicans are and should be the party of the 47 percent… we should be fighting for the little guy,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said, while Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) added that “the reason… the economy is getting better is despite the president, and despite the president’s policies.”

These sentiments echo the messaging that has already been put forward by other conservatives vying for the White House — such as Mitt Romney, who appears to have had a change of heart since his 2012 campaign. “Under President Obama, the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty than ever before,” he said in a speech last week. Similarly, Jeb Bush said earlier this month that “while the last eight years have been pretty good ones for top earners, they’ve been a lost decade for the rest of America.”

Unemployment has significantly declined since Obama took office and the economy is steadily improving, as the presidential hopefuls noted. But instead of laying out policies that would reduce income inequality and improve the economy, potential Republican presidential candidates have failed to show how their policies would do anything except hurt the working class.


The likely candidates have used forums ahead of their campaign announcements to separate themselves from Romney’s infamous 47 percent comments from 2012, Romney included. Republican politicians are also trying to fight the belief that the party is too pro-rich — 51 percent of Americans think Republicans are most interested in helping the wealthy. But the attempt to rebrand the party as one that will support the poor may fall short, given the candidates’ history of supporting policies that do the exact opposite.

Rubio’s tax reform plan, proposed with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), does little to meet the needs of the working class, but calls for consolidating income taxes into two brackets and cutting business tax rates, allowing them to take deductions for investments. Rubio’s plan also purports to help working families by augmenting the current child tax credit of $1,000 with an additional $2,500 credit, refundable against income tax liabilities. But Isabel Sawhill, co-director of the Brookings Institution’s Center on Children and Families, said very few low-income families would actually benefit from the plan because the refundability only kicks in if a family’s tax liabilities exceed the existing Earned Income Tax Credit and the already existing child tax credit.

Romney, meanwhile, called for a tax plan during his 2012 campaign that would give half of its benefit to the richest five percent of Americans. He also supported a repeal of an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, policies that both benefit low-income families.

Cruz has also called for a flat tax to simplify the process of paying taxes, but flat taxes benefit the wealthy and hurt the working class.

All of the potential 2016 candidates have also called for and prioritized the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. But Obama’s healthcare law has dramatically lowered the uninsured rate among the poorest Americans earning less than $36,000 a year. A recent analysis also showed that the law has “pushed back against inequality, essentially redistributing income — in the form of health insurance or insurance subsidies — to many of the groups that have fared poorly over the last few decades,” according to the New York Times.


In addition to repealing Obama’s healthcare law, the likely Republican candidates have taken aim at other federal healthcare programs. Cruz said in 2013 that expanding Medicaid will worsen healthcare for the poor and could lead to violent criminals avoiding prison. But Cruz’s state has the highest uninsured rate in the country, with a large number of Texans who lack health insurance making below 200 percent of the poverty level.

When outlining his new economic growth agenda last year, Rubio said that “we cannot rebuild the American Dream when 43% of new jobs pay less than $16 an hour and our economy is growing at only two or three percent a year.” But Rubio, Cruz and Paul all dodged a question on Sunday about whether they think there should be a federal minimum wage, a measure that definitively helps the working class and improves the economy.