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Is The GOP’s 2016 Lineup Soft On Social Safety Nets?

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Senator Marco Rubio speaking at the 2012 CPAC in Washington, D.C.

CREDIT: Flickr/ Gage Skidmore

There's already speculation over likely presidential contenders in 2016—and leading Republicans Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) each have a record of speaking positively about social safety programs.

Ryan, who ran for vice president on Mitt Romney's ticket in the most recent race, argued for creating a better social safety net that would “break the cycle of poverty.” In his promising statements Ryan also implied, however, that social safety nets encouraged dependency and drained people of their incentive to work—ideas echoing his former running mate’s notorious "47 percent" comments. Ryan's record of opposing programs that help the elderly (which led to his being booed during an AARP appearance last year) are also worrisome.

Jindal of Louisiana also voiced support for a social safety net but he also fretted that providing assistance to low- or no-income U.S. citizens could “encourage irresponsible behavior.” And as The American Prospect's Jamelle Bouie reported, Jindal’s tax plan to cut corporate taxes while cutting services (and likely raising state sales taxes), is a “huge burden” on lower income families.

Then there's Rubio. He is the darling potential nominee of many conservatives who think he has the ability to appeal to young voters and minorities, two groups that heavily impacted the GOP's losses this past election season both locally and nationally. Last year, Rubio spoke confidently about the importance of the social safety net and distanced himself from the GOP’s 47 percent rhetoric—but also voted to limit eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides benefits to low- or no-income people to help them purchase food for themselves and their families.

Social safety programs remain extremely popular: about one in six U.S. residents used Social Security in 2012, and Medicare has been supported by 88 percent of citizens in polling from recent years. Young people especially have an affinity for protecting and expanding social safety nets. As the Roosevelt Institute uncovered in their Budget for A Millenial America plan (which delved into the sort of working economy MIllenialls wanted to be a part of in 2040) a significant number of surveyed Millennials expressed a desire for a more resilient social safety net that would withstand struggling economies. Continued public favorability helps explain the lip service potential nominees are now paying to the safety net, but their records unfortunately guarantees little in terms of what social programs would remain for future generation should they come to power.

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