Scott’s opportunity message

Sen. Tim Scott is pushing his "Opportunity Agenda" of legislative proposals aimed to reducing poverty. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Washington gridlock feeds public pessimism about the lack of bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems.

But Tim Scott, South Carolina’s junior U.S. senator, is trying to debunk those tired assumptions by taking on the continuing challenge of chronic poverty with his “Opportunity Agenda.”

And while conservative Republicans, including Sen. Scott, and liberal Democrats retain fundamental disagreements on how to best help America’s poor, that doesn’t preclude finding effective common ground on this issue.

For instance, as reported in Monday’s Post and Courier, Sen. Scott has forged what some might have deemed an unlikely alliance with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., in trying to break the insidious, cross-generational cycle of poverty.

Yes, Republicans still emphasize private-sector solutions while Democrats put more faith in big-government programs. However, positive compromises are possible. And as the first black U.S. senator from the South since the 19th century, Sen. Scott packs a powerful symbolic punch in his quest to accomplish that crucial mission.

Our story cited Sen. Scott’s account, during a recent speech, of seeing two little girls visiting their father for the first time. The meeting took place in the prison where the dad was incarcerated. The man’s daughters rushed to greet him.

Sen. Scott recalled: “Love at first sight cannot be understood until you’re in that room, watching that dad find his daughters in the middle of the crowd and watching these kids run towards their dad. We are going to translate that experience into a legislative agenda so that those kids, technically without their fathers, have a chance to experience their maximum potential.”

Sen. Scott knows firsthand what it’s like to be raised by a single mom in a low-income home, as he was in North Charleston. He also knows, from his time as a near dropout at Stall High School, the life-changing difference that caring guidance from extended family and friends can make for a youngster teetering between future success and futility.

He’s incorporated those life lessons into his Opportunity Agenda, which includes a bill granting tax credits to businesses that create apprenticeships and another one expanding school choice.

Sen. Scott also recently introduced the “Investing in Opportunity Act,” which would create tax incentives for long-term investments of private dollars into “distressed communities” — in other words, economically depressed low-income areas. Yet his focus goes beyond legislative action. He told our reporter:

“I am not limiting myself to this notion that all answers come through platforms and politics. My goal is to touch lives where they live and to find advocates and allies and resources through every major pillar of our society.”

Sen. Scott also wants to help House Speaker Paul Ryan, who shares his zeal against poverty, stress the GOP’s newfound commitment to this cause.

Meanwhile, Sen. Scott’s top ally across the aisle is Sen. Booker, a rising Democratic star touted by many pundits as a potential running mate for Hillary Clinton this year.

Sen. Booker, as the former mayor of Newark, also has ample experience with the seemingly intractable poverty dilemma.

A co-sponsor of the Invest in Opportunity Act, Sen. Booker offered this praise of Sen. Scott:

“He is an extraordinarily relatable person. I’ve seen people relate to him in a particular way. I talk to Democrats about him and I’m always touched by how much love there is for him.”

That doesn’t mean Sen. Scott is shy about taking partisan positions — including his call this week for a special prosecutor on Mrs. Clinton’s mishandling of classified emails as Secretary of State.

But the Stall High and Baptist College (now Charleston Southern) graduate is also seizing the opportunity to take on America’s poverty problem with a bipartisan pitch.

And before betting against that agenda, consider the long 1980 odds against a struggling Stall High ninth-grader one day becoming a U.S. senator.