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WHAT WE THINK
Bipartisan agreement on tougher welfare ''reform'' rules
Heaping misery on the poor

May 10, 2002 | Page 3

GEORGE W. Bush's plan for welfare is like the rest of his "compassionate conservative" policies. Heavy on the conservative and light on the compassionate.

Bush is seizing the opportunity to chop more from the social safety net as Bill Clinton's welfare "reform" law--which has thrown some 2.4 million people off the welfare rolls since 1996--comes up for renewal.

Bush's plan will increase the misery faced by millions of workers who find themselves without incomes each year--a number that will likely increase with unemployment surging to 6 percent last month, the highest level in almost eight years. Bush may talk about "compassion." But when his proposals aren't outright punishment--as in the case of stricter work rules for recipients--they're offerings to please the religious right.

His plan would raise the work requirement to 40 hours a week and require states to force at least 70 percent of adult recipients into work by the year 2007. Some $300 million would be allocated to "encouraging marriage" and $135 million for abstinence training. But not a penny more for child care.

Last week, Democratic senators, led by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Joe Lieberman, "came to the rescue" with an "alternative" to the Bush proposal. But Clinton and Lieberman support the core of the Bush plan. The main difference is some added money for child care, Medicaid, benefits for immigrants and job training.

Co-sponsor Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) described his proposal as "a centrist approach that synthesizes the best ideas from the left and the right." Otherwise known as Republican Lite.

No wonder the White House is quietly welcoming the Democrats' plan. ''We are very pleased with these proposals," an administration official told the New York Times. "We recognize that the final bill will probably provide more money than we originally proposed for child care. We could accept a modest increase, but we want to make sure it's modest."

In other words, the Republicans will gladly put up with a few of the Democrats' liberal gestures in exchange for all the punitive cuts that they want.

The bottom line is that both parties are committed to shredding the social safety net. But they don't think that all welfare is bad.

Corporate welfare--in the form of $114 billion in tax cuts for business, a leftover from the Republican economic stimulus package that Democrats railed against last year--easily passed in March with overwhelming Democratic support.

In the same vein, Democrats and Republicans are bickering over their alternatives to the White House plan for Medicare drug benefits for the elderly. But the differences are small change--and neither proposal will cover the high costs of drugs for the elderly. Ultimately, the real winners will be drug industry bosses, who will see their profits protected for years to come.

"Normally, with an election approaching, Republicans and Democrats in Washington would be trying to carve out separate identities by sharpening their differences," lamented a New York Times editorial on May 6. "That is not happening so far this season."

That's because the two parties have so much in common--serving Corporate America at our expense.

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