WASHINGTON -- Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee want their Republican colleagues to hold hearings to discuss ways to reduce poverty.
In a letter sent Monday to committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Democratic members cited the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty" and called for hearings on ways to improve accountability in the financial system, expand access to financial services and invest in locally based development programs.
“The gap between the rich and the poor in America has become a chasm,” the Democratic members wrote. “Today, 20 percent of the income in our country goes to the top 1 percent of Americans. The top 1 percent holds about 40 percent of the country’s wealth. This inequity trickles down into our communities, our housing and rental markets, and our financial system, where a lack of access to banking services often causes households to take on large debt burdens.”
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) organized the letter, signed by the panel's 27 Democrats. The committee includes 33 Republicans.
“We would be glad to work with you to hold hearings to explore what we have learned and what else we need to do to improve wages, housing adequacy and affordability and increase access to the financial mainstream," the Democrats wrote.
A spokesman for the committee did not return a request for comment.
Waters said on the House floor last week that House Republicans were actively making inequality worse by attempting to cut funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, in the farm bill and allowing long-term unemployment insurance to expire at the end of 2013.
Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) declared the "War on Poverty" a failure and presented his own solutions, which included "wage enhancements" for low-paying jobs and making states responsible for administering anti-poverty programs rather than the federal government.
UPDATE: 1/15/14 -- Reached for comment on the letter, David Popp, communications director of the House Financial Services Committee, sent The Huffington Post a link to a statement by Hensarling criticizing the Volcker Rule, a provision of the Dodd-Frank Act meant to prevent banks from taking certain types of risks.
"As a nation we just marked the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty; tragically, a failure on more than one level. To win, we need more jobs, which means we need less Volcker," Hensarling said.
Read his full statement here.