Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich heatedly disputed Robert Reich’s contention that the “War on Poverty’s” initial success was spoiled by decades of Republican “intransigence,” telling the former labor secretary his argument was “baloney.”
Gingrich and Reich appeared on ABC News’ “This Week” to discuss TIME magazine’s choice of Pope Francis as Person of the Year. Reich, a well-known proponent of wide-scale income redistribution, changed the topic to inequality in the United States today. ABC News host Jonathann Karl asked Gingrinch whether the Republican Party should be worried about poverty in America.
“Absolutely,” he responded. “How can you justify the level of wealth in those big towers in New York City and the level of poverty in those alleys? And without talking about government, surely a society that cared, that believed every person was endowed by their Creator with the right to pursue happiness, would come up with a better solution than 22,000 children that are homeless.
“I think that the Republican Party has an obligation to rethink some of its indifference to the very poor,” he continued, “and I think the Democrats have an obligation to ask themselves after 50 years of the ‘War on Poverty,’ isn’t it clear that government isn’t a very good –”
That was as far as Gingrich got before his fellow panelists exploded with outrage. After a brief tussle, Reich was tapped to explain why poverty is all Republicans’ fault:
REICH: The “War on Poverty” — which next year we are going to celebrate the 50th anniversary, in addition to the Civil Rights Act — the “War on Poverty” was successful for a time. What has happened, however, over the last 30 years, is that much of the — much of the ardor, much of the concern, much of what propelled that “War on Poverty” has dissipated.
KARL: But why after five years of President Barack Obama, do we see the problem worse?
REICH: Well the problem is worse. I think it has something to do, perhaps, with the intransigence of the Speaker’s party. Because every time there was a jobs bill, every time there was an effort to expand low-income housing —
GINGRICH: Robert —
REICH: Every time there was an effort to provide better opportunities for young people — we’re talking about equal opportunity.
GINGRICH: Every major —
REICH: Equal opportunity is at the basis —
GINGRICH: This is baloney.
REICH: What is baloney?
GINGRICH: Here’s the baloney: Every major city which is a center of poverty is run by Democrats. Every major city. Their policies have failed. They are not willing to admit it. And the fact is it’s the poor who suffer from bad —
REICH: First of all, Bloomberg is not a Democrat. Secondly, what’s happening in America —
KARL: There’s been a Democrat in New York for 20 years!
Reich was eventually allowed to finish his lecture, admonishing Gingrich as he did so. “Newt, I’m surprised you are not taking responsibility for this,” he said without a trace of irony.
One thing Reich isn’t taking responsibility for is his own contribution to inequality during his widely regretted stint in the White House. Working as the Clinton Administration’s Labor Secretary from 1993 to 1997, Reich oversaw a substantial hike in the federal minimum wage and implementation of the Family Leave Act. Despite these apparent War-On-Poverty victories, according to inequality.org‘s chart of after-tax income by income group, U.S. inequality during his tenure grew at the fastest rate ever seen up until that time.
Reich left office prior to the late-Clinton-era boom that lifted all wage groups and saw the last balanced budgets in American history. He later slammed his former colleagues in the memoir “Locked In the Cabinet,” which was universally criticized and had to be substantially re-edited in later editions due to Reich’s multiple distortions and outright falsehoods.