WASHINGTON - South Carolina Republicans are open to suggestions from President Barack Obama in Tuesday's State of the Union speech on how to reduce poverty, but they're worried his ideas would expand the role of government.
Obama will address a joint session of Congress at 9 p.m. Eastern time, and GOP members of South Carolina's delegation say they hope for - but don't expect - paths to bipartisan agreement on improving the economy and creating jobs.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg, said he'd be happy if the president started off with an analysis of the poverty rate and an admission that it's worsened under his watch.
"Under the general heading of acceptance of responsibility and not acting as if he's been a bystander for the past half a decade, if you tell people you messed up and ask forgiveness they're in inclined to give it to you," Gowdy said Monday.
Gowdy said he'd prefer plans that increase access to education rather than raising the minimum wage.
"Graduate high school, don't have kids before you graduate or ideally before you're married, get a full-time job as opposed to a part-time job, and if you do all three of those things, your chances of poverty are less than 1 percent, and those are three things you can do and you're not dependent on anyone," Gowdy said.
Estimates are that 49.7 million Americans lived in poverty in 2012, up from 39.8 million in 2008.
There may be some overlap between Obama's focus on income inequality and the 2014 agenda of Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina's junior GOP senator.
Scott, in an interview, said he's keeping an open mind about Obama's ideas for addressing rising poverty. Scott's proposals are a combination of giving more students a chance to choose their public school and consolidating various job training programs.
"The question is not whether he has a good Democratic solution or whether he's going to appeal to Republicans," Scott said. "It's, 'Will we see an agenda presented to us that focuses on those folks who are desperately in need of a hand up who are not asking for a handout?'"
Scott is concerned that Obama's proposals will increase the role of government, like the economic stimulus and health insurance reforms.
"I assume both of us . . . are well-intentioned on the outcome, but it's how we get there," Scott said. "When we try to grow government in an attempt to make people more comfortable and not as poor, it doesn't seem like our results are good. It doesn't mean government doesn't have a role, I'm just not sure it's a starring role."
Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-Laurens, also expressed concern about Obama's plans.
"Maybe we could see him say that America hasn't done enough in its 'War on Poverty' . . . to actually empower those below the poverty line, helping them to really improve their status, instead of continuing the policies that keep folks reliant on some sort of governmental assistance," Duncan said.
White House officials say the president will talk about the growing gap between the rich and poor in the United States and the persistent crisis of poverty.
"After all, it is a theme the president put front and center since he first ran for president in 2007, when he talked about his view that too many middle-class families are working harder and harder yet falling farther and farther behind," said Josh Earnest, deputy press secretary at the White House. "He'll talk about expanding economic opportunities for the middle class so every American - all Americans -- have a good shot."
On other issues, Gowdy said the best way to foster progress on the issue of immigration would be for Obama to avoid the topic altogether. Gowdy is among a group of House Republicans trying to find some agreement on how to crack down on illegal border crossings and process the 11 million already in the country without permission.
While Gowdy said he believes some of his Democratic colleagues are genuine about making a deal, he accused Obama of using the status quo as a political weapon. The GOP has repelled Latino voters by vehemently opposing all proposals to grant legal status to those already in the U.S., and it is motivating the party's search for a compromise.
"I don't think any member of the Republican Party believes the president is concerned about our long-term electoral success," Gowdy said. "If he's serious about wanting to see something accomplished, the less he says, the better."
Duncan said he's hoping for administration proposals that would increase domestic energy production, such as opening the Atlantic coast to offshore oil and gas drilling.
"Maybe the president will say that we are going to move forward with the Keystone Pipeline and work with both our closest ally and largest trading partner in Canada while also assisting Mexico as it moves away from a state-owned energy sector to more free market-driven energy production, and tell Americans that, by doing these things . . . we could begin North American energy independence," Duncan said.
Scott said he's frustrated that Congress hasn't lowered federal corporate tax rates, despite Obama calling for it previously. While there is bipartisan interest in lowering the rate from 35 percent, Democrats and Republicans disagree about which loopholes to close and which tax benefits should be eliminated to compensate for the lower rate.
"When you hear a speech and nothing happens next, that's difficult for us," Scott said.
By:Mary Orndorff Troyan contact at firstname.lastname@example.org