Senate Republican leaders — criticized by Democrats over their policies toward the poor in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — will push their own anti-poverty agenda this week to encourage marriage, responsible fatherhood and private charitable giving.
Democrats have repeatedly denounced Republicans’ response to Katrina, including proposals for program cuts to pay for relief efforts, saying such policies would hurt the poor, including the thousands of impoverished New Orleans residents left homeless by the storm.
So Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, wants to highlight his party’s approach to fighting poverty by offering four Republican amendments to the labor and health and human services spending bill the Senate is considering this week.
“The whole idea is to change the cycle of dependency” on government, he said. “If spending money is the answer … we would have solved poverty a long time ago.”
What works, Mr. Santorum said, is building strong marriages and families and communities that depend on each other, not government. “The Democrats fundamentally get it wrong,” he said.
His proposed amendments call for funding to promote marriage and teach fathers to be more responsible — two pieces of the stalled Republican welfare-reform bill — as well as funding to provide technical help to small charities, and to determine through a commission which federal social programs could be restructured as vouchers. The proposals call for about $411 million in grant money and represent pieces of the 12-point anti-poverty agenda introduced by Senate Republican leaders last spring.
Mr. Santorum also will try to attach a $7 billion charitable-giving proposal to a separate piece of legislation next week. The long-stalled charity bill would create a series of tax incentives to encourage individuals and companies to give to faith-based and secular social service charities.
“This is an opportunity for us to … put forth some ideas,” he said.
“This is presenting a long-term, positive approach … as opposed to what we think is the rather partisan rhetoric coming from [Senate Minority Leader Harry] Reid and others, to somehow cast Republicans as immoral or not caring for poor people,” said Elizabeth Keys, an aide to Mr. Santorum. “It’s a big push for these anti-poverty items at a time when Democrats are pummeling Republicans in the wake of Katrina.”
His proposals did not satisfy Democrats.
“On the same day that Republicans are busy cutting Medicaid and denying health care benefits to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina, it is shocking that they would claim to have a poverty agenda,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat. “Time and time again, they have made cuts to proven programs for working families to lift them out of poverty while denying those same workers a decent minimum wage.”
Mr. Reid and Democrats continued criticizing Republican spending-cut proposals yesterday.
“After all we’ve been through and seen in the last two months, this is not the time to cut assistance for those with the least,” Mr. Reid said yesterday, after a round table with Katrina survivors and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
But Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, said Mr. Santorum’s proposals are a good move, to address the “root causes” of poverty.