- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 2, 2018

President Trump has sided with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan to push for sweeping welfare reforms this year but they will have to persuade a skeptical Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell when the three huddle at Camp David over the weekend to set the GOP’s legislative agenda for 2018.

Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, is expressing grave reservations about tackling the hot-button issue without bipartisan support that the effort almost certainly will lack.

For Democrats, it’s also a made-to-order campaign talking point that Republicans help the rich and hurt the poor.

But Mr. Trump is forging ahead with reining in welfare programs, as well as other ambitious plans for infrastructure spending and border security, said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

“The President was elected because of his ambitious agenda and his desire to get a lot of things done. We’re going to focus on that,” she said at the daily White House press briefing.

Mrs. Sanders said all those agenda items will be hammered out when the three men meet at Camp David.

The agenda-setting session has been on the president’s schedule since before the end-of-year holiday break.

“Certainly welfare reform, infrastructure, responsible immigration reform, and healthcare will all be top priorities for the administration this year,” said Mrs. Sanders.

Mr. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, has been pursuing entitlement reform for years. The upcoming push for work requirements and other conditions for welfare and Medicaid recipient, however, will be a scaled-down version of the massive overhaul of Social Security and Medicare that he envisioned.

Mr. Trump pledged during the 2016 presidential race that he wouldn’t touch Social Security or Medicare, and he has been sticking to it since taking office.

Even if the legislation is limited to welfare, Senate Republicans likely couldn’t win enough Democratic support to pass it through the narrowly divided chamber unless using special budget rules known as “reconciliation” to prevent a filibuster.

Republicans used the budget reconciliation process to pass the tax cut bill without support from Democrats.

“The move will backfire,” said Democratic strategist Christy Setzer. “Everything Trump does is about firing up his (working-class) base on race issues or rewarding his (billionaire) base via tax breaks. So-called welfare reform punishes Trump’s core supporters — not the smartest move in an election year.”

Mr. Trump has said that welfare reforms are needed because “people are taking advantage of the system and then other people aren’t receiving what they really need to live, and we think it is very unfair to them.”

The administration already took steps to curb welfare programs.

The Department of Agriculture gave states more flexibility to impose work requirements on recipients of food stamps.

The department said it was trying to “promote self-sufficiency” on the food stamp program, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.

In a similar move, the Trump administration is encouraging states to require work, school or community service from recipients of Medicaid, the government health insurance for the poor.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said idea was to get people to “move up, move on, and move out” of the program, which is jointly funded by the federal government and states.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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