Hill Dems, Republicans clash over how to address causes of Baltimore unrest

Washington (CNN)The death of Freddie Gray, and the subsequent riots that have shaken Baltimore, have spawned a national conversation about what kind of federal response is appropriate to address issues of poverty, policing, race and criminal justice.

Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill are united in expressing desire to tackle the problems exposed by the unrest. But disagreements about what to do about them -- not to mention a huge philosophical gulf between the two parties -- means progress will be a tough climb in Congress.
The sharp divide was illustrated in comments by the two top party leaders Thursday.
"The President has suggested more taxpayer money is the answer. Again, we believe the answer is more jobs and more opportunity," said House Speaker John Boehner, referring to President Barack Obama's appeal for more federal spending to address the problems.
    Not surprising, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi echoed the President's call for a range of federal programs to address the issues.
    "We have to recognize also this is many-layered in terms of opportunity for education, for jobs and the rest," she said.
    The minority leader called for the creation of a new summer jobs program -- something Democrats have repeatedly pushed but has faced stiff resistance from the GOP.
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    Pelosi grew up in Baltimore, and both her father and brother served as the city's mayor. The Democratic leader, noting that her brother, Thomas D'Alesandro III, was a young mayor in 1968 when riots erupted after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., said "some of the same symptoms are there that caused some of the unease (after Gray's death)."
    Ohio Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge, the former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, apologized on the House floor to the city of Baltimore Thursday and blamed congressional Republicans and their cuts to federal programs for generating problems in the inner city.
    "When you disinvest in education, provide no places for kids to play, and offer no summer jobs, Baltimore happens. When you refuse to provide resources for job training and decent housing, and you have a lack of resources for communities, Baltimore happens," Fudge said.
    But Boehner argued that focusing money on anti-poverty programs isn't working. The speaker cited Jack Kemp, a former housing secretary under President George H.W. Bush, who championed the use of federal money and tax incentives in "enterprise zones" in urban areas.
    Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, who has called Kemp a mentor, has taken the lead for congressional Republicans in developing policies aimed at expanding opportunity and ending the cycle of poverty.
    Speaking at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor on Thursday, Ryan repeated his belief that the federal "war on poverty," launched 50 years ago, hasn't worked.
    "We can't keep measuring success by how much money are we throw at programs. We have to measure success as, 'Is it working?'" he said.
    Ryan, the chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, spent months visiting cities across the country last year to develop proposals to address poverty. On Thursday, he cited legislation he wrote with Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray that measures the outputs of federal programs so that resources can be targeted more effectively. Ryan's committee is also conducting a series of hearings on welfare reform proposals, but it's unclear whether those will be supported by Democrats.
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    Criminal justice reform is the one area where Congress is poised to act this year. Both Democrats and Republicans have expressed support for doing away with mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes and for reforming how children charged with offenses are handled in the justice system.
    House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte told CNN Thursday that "we are having discussions about that right now," but declined to give any specifics about the plan or timing on any vote on legislation.