WASHINGTON — Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn has found a legislative home for his plan to combat poverty in communities around the country.
And he has Republicans to thank for it.
The South Carolina lawmaker was able to convince the chairman of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee — Kentucky Republican Hal Rogers — to include his “10-20-30” plan in the House version of the 2017 agriculture appropriations bill.
The provision would direct a variety of rural development initiatives to provide at least 10 percent of its funding to “persistent poverty” counties, defined as those counties where 20 percent of the population has been living in poverty for over 30 years.
The 10-20-30 plan can be applied to other government programs, too, and Clyburn said he planned to look for those opportunities in the other annual spending bills.
“We are certainly going to try,” said Clyburn, the House’s third highest-ranking Democrat.
The 10-20-30 provision in the agriculture bill was inserted with very little fanfare considering how long Clyburn has pushed on this issue.
It made its first appearance in the 2009 economic recovery act when Democrats controlled both Congress and the White House. Applying the 10-20-30 framework to three rural development accounts that year allowed for a $5.8 million grant and $2 million loan to construct 51 miles of waterlines in the Britton’s Neck community in Marion County.
That provision has since expired, however, and Clyburn hasn’t since had success in getting it renewed in a divided government. He said it didn’t have to do with the provision being controversial.
“There’s no legitimate argument against this,” Clyburn said, adding this does not contribute to the deficit or cost extra money. “I’ve never explained this to anybody who didn’t think it was meritorious.”
He attributed any resistance to pursuing the plan to a general reluctance to embrace change and try something new. But in October 2015, dynamics changed. Then-House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, a notorious institutionalist, left Congress, and Paul Ryan, R-Wis., took his place. Ryan was elected on a promise to do things differently, which included outsourcing ideas beyond the leadership’s inner circle.
Ryan also has made poverty one of his signature issues designed to grow the appeal of the Republican Party, often criticized for not doing enough to help the poor. He was in Columbia early this year, alongside U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., to participate in a summit on anti-poverty initiatives. Scott rolled out his own bipartisan, bicameral anti-poverty proposal last week.
In addition, Ryan was already familiar with the 10-20-30 framework from his time as chairman of the House Budget Committee, when he invited Clyburn to testify on the concept.
After Ryan became speaker, he encouraged Clyburn to talk to Rogers, for whom the 10-20-30 plan hit close to his Kentucky home base. “Obviously it’s a big consideration for me,” Rogers said. “I’ve got one of the poorest districts in the country.”
According to 2014 U.S. Census data, Kentucky had just over 19 percent of its population living below the poverty line — the fifth-highest poverty rate of all the states. In that same data set, South Carolina had 18 percent of its population living below the poverty line between 2013 and 2014, making it the 11th most prevalent state for low-income communities.
Aides for Clyburn and Rogers got together and began several long months of discussing options and scrutinizing the budget. Clyburn and Rogers themselves could be seen going into closed-door meetings in Rogers’ office just off the House floor.
The result is a provision in the House Appropriations Committee-passed agriculture spending bill that would apply 10-20-30 to nine separate rural development programs.
If the provision survives negotiations on the overall bill between the House and Senate, it will not only be the first time since 2009 the initiative is signed into law but also the biggest expansion of it as well.
Asked why Clyburn wasn’t touting his victory, the veteran lawmaker said he’d learned to wait before celebrating.
“It’s never done until it’s done,” he said.
Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier Washington correspondent.