Sen. Lee urges conservatives to lead fight against poverty, echoes Brigham Young's counsel to 'bring them in'

Published: Saturday, Nov. 16 2013 12:04 p.m. MST

Utah Sen. Mike Lee echoed Brigham Young in a recent speech at the Heritage Foundation Anti-Poverty Forum as he urged listeners to help their fellow Americans out of poverty by embarking on a mission to "bring them in."

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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Echoing the words of Brigham Young, Utah Sen. Mike Lee says Americans should help others out of poverty by embarking on a mission to "bring them in."

In 1856, after receiving word that hundreds of members of the Willie and Martin handcart companies were suffering and dying on the plains, President Brigham Young stood before members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and urged them to mount an immediate rescue mission.

"Your faith ... and profession of religion, will never save one soul of you … unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching," Lee quoted Brigham Young as saying. "Go and bring in those people now on the plains."

"Today, millions more of our neighbors are still out on the plains," Lee said in a speech last week at the Heritage Foundation Anti-Poverty Forum. "They are not some government's brothers and sisters — they are ours. And the time has come to do something about it. As conservatives, as Americans and as human beings, we have it in our power — individually, together and where necessary, through government … to bring them in."

Lee urged conservatives to lead a "new, bold and heroic offensive in the war on poverty" by building an agenda that ensures government dollars benefit the underprivileged, expands access to education, gets civil society involved, celebrates stable marriages and reforms the U.S. criminal justice, prison, tax, regulatory, energy and transportation systems.

He cited Utah's combination of "a smart, efficient government, a growing prosperous economy, an active and faithful civil society" and the private LDS welfare system as a model to follow and as reasons Salt Lake leads in upward mobility.

"Free enterprise and civil society operate in the natural human space — between the isolated individual and the impersonal state — where we live and love and flourish," Lee said. "In America, government did not invade or replace that space. Government protected and expanded it. That is how we proved to the world that freedom doesn't mean 'you're on your own.' Freedom means 'we're all in this together.' The conservative vision for America is not an Ayn Rand novel. It's a Norman Rockwell painting or a Frank Capra movie: a nation 'of plain, ordinary kindness and a little looking out for the other fellow, too.'"

Lee's speech at the anti-poverty forum follows a previous speech at the American Enterprise Institute in which he laid out the goals of his "Family Fairness and Opportunity Tax Reform Act," which he said reforms the tax code to "rescue the nation — and ourselves — from (the) crisis of unequal opportunity."

According to new data from the Supplemental Poverty Measure, America's current poverty rate stands at 16 percent. Research released by the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee in October shows that the U.S. has spent $3.7 trillion on 80 different means-tested poverty and welfare programs in the last five years.

"Despite nearly $15 trillion in total welfare spending since Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in 1964, the poverty rate is perilously close to where we began more than 40 years ago," Michael Tanner wrote in a 2012 Cato Institute report on the American welfare state. "It is time to re-evaluate our approach to fighting poverty."

Efforts within the Republican Party to turn attention to poverty picked up steam after the election, with conservative thinkers urging Republicans to explore new ways to woo voters by offering a hand up rather than a handout.

The Republican "Growth and Opportunity Project" report — the party's post-election autopsy — concluded that if the GOP is to grow, its "policies and actions must take into account that the middle class has struggled mightily and that far too many of our citizens live in poverty."

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