- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Thanks to the ingenuity of working Americans and the tax cuts passed by a Republican Congress in 2001 and 2003, our economy has rebounded from its post-September 11 slump and is the envy of the world. With a booming stock market, nearly 5 million jobs created since August 2003, a sound housing market, minority home ownership at an all-time high and an average unemployment percentage lower than the last three decades, there is no doubt that our economy is strong.

To keep our economy strong, three steps must be taken. First, we must extend the tax cuts of 2003 to prevent a massive tax increase, which would only stunt the economy and place a substantial burden on working families. Second, we must work to reduce the deficit by cutting wasteful government spending and reforming inefficient government programs. Third, we must do more to empower those who live beyond the reach of our robust economy.

Some in America have not reaped the rewards of our economic bounty; it is to help meet their needs that I have sponsored the Senate Anti-Poverty Agenda. There are three components to the anti-poverty agenda: work, investment and a neighborhood-based focus.

Work, not welfare, is the gateway to opportunity for all Americans. In 1996, Congress enacted historic welfare reform and the results speak for themselves: Welfare caseloads have been cut in half; more than 7 million individuals and 2 million families have exchanged a welfare check for a paycheck; and 1.6 million children have been lifted out of poverty.

To continue the success of the 1996 reforms and address the welfare recipients not yet involved in any work, Congress renewed and the president signed welfare reform, adding critical incentives to promote healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood.

In recognition of the role small businesses play in creating new jobs, I have advocated the expansion of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), a program that creates meaningful employment opportunities for millions of low-income Americans and provides tax incentives for employers who hire the jobless. Congress has the opportunity to approve this tax credit by passing the conference report of the Tax Reconciliation bill, which is currently in conference committee.

The second component of the Anti-Poverty Agenda is investment. Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) and KIDS Accounts are two investment proposals I have introduced that will enable low-income Americans to get the help they need as they strive to build a solid financial foundation. IDAs provide low-income, working Americans the opportunity to build assets through matched savings accounts for home ownership, educational needs or small business investments.

KIDS Accounts would provide every child with a savings account worth $500. Children in households that earn below the national median income would qualify for a one-time additional supplemental of up to $500. Allowed to mature until the account holder’s 18th birthday, this tax-free money could provide a crucial first step to a down payment on a house, a college education or another step toward future prosperity.

The third component of our agenda is strengthening America’s neighborhoods. The surest path to strong neighborhoods and communities is strengthening our charitable organizations, which rely on the generosity of citizens. Yet, under current law, more than two-thirds of American taxpayers are deprived of the chance to receive a tax deduction of their charitable contributions because they do not itemize on their tax returns.

The provision I have proposed that is currently in the Tax Reconciliation Bill changes this by providing tax deductions on their charitable contributions to almost 83 million Americans who do not itemize on their tax return.

I also worked to include a provision that would allow individuals to give tax-free contributions from their IRAs for charitable purposes, helping a wide range of charities and likely providing billions of dollars to help make higher education more accessible and affordable.

Lastly, I offered an amendment to the tax-reconciliation conference that provides restaurants, companies and farmers an increased tax incentive to donate food to shelters and food banks that feed the hungry.

By keeping tax rates low, enabling low-income Americans to develop real assets and amending tax laws to encourage all Americans to give generously to our nation’s charities helping those in need, we will help ensure that our economy stays strong and that ours is a nation of opportunity and prosperity for all.

Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.


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