DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And let's dig into that disagreement a bit more. While Democrats talk about refining the war on poverty, Republicans say it needs wholesale changes. They generally see anti-poverty programs as a failure of big government. And they say states know best how to help the poor.
Here's NPR's Don Gonyea.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: It was a two-step move for Republicans at the Capitol yesterday: praise the sentiment on the war on poverty, but - well, here's Florida Congressman Steve Southerland.
REP. STEVE SOUTHERLAND: Today, we are here to mark the 50th anniversary of President Johnson's declaration of the war on poverty. And while this war may have been launched with the best of intentions, it's clear we're now engaged in a battle of attrition.
GONYEA: Michigan Congressman Dave Camp joined the news conference, as well, along with other members of the Republican Study Committee.
REP. DAVE CAMP: How do we grow this economy, create jobs, get people working again? Those are the policies that we need to be focused on. One of them is tax reform, and I think that is one that would actually bring us a stronger economy, more investment and the kinds of job creation that we need to see. And that means more people get hired.
GONYEA: The group dismissed statistics showing the poverty rate in the country down in the past 50 years, instead citing the increase, as the overall population has grown, in the total number of Americans living below the poverty line. The most expansive remarks yesterday by a leading Republican were those of Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. He spoke in the LBJ room in the Capitol building. Rubio ran the numbers, pointing to job losses due to economic changes, resulting in the big decline of high-wage, low-skill work in the U.S. He said the economy needs lower taxes and fewer regulations. He described a failure to retrain workers to get the skills they need.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: We have four million Americans who have been out of work for six months or more. We have a staggering 49 million Americans living below the poverty line. We have over twice that number - over 100 million people - who get some sort of food aid from the federal government. Meanwhile, our labor participation force is at a 35-year low, and children raised in the bottom 20 percent of national income have a 42 percent chance of being stuck there for life.
GONYEA: And, Rubio said, don't look to Washington for the answers. He proposed taking the federal money and giving it to the states.
RUBIO: Our anti-poverty programs should be replaced with a revenue-neutral flex fund. We would streamline the - most of our existing federal anti-poverty funding into a single agency. Then, each year, these flex funds would be transferred to the states, so they can design and fund creative initiatives that address the factors behind inequality of opportunity.
GONYEA: It's something Republicans have long favored, but critics counter that such block grants would be a way to starve programs of funding. Rubio says right now, none of this is in the form of proposed legislation. Look for that in the coming months. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.