Let's Get Serious about Welfare

November 30, 1994|By TOM TEEPEN

ATLANTA — Atlanta. -- The new Republicans coming to congressional power are sworn to end the welfare state, which they hold to be jTC a needless burden to taxpayers and a pesteration even to the folks it is supposed to help. But don't get excited. They're just joshing. If they were serious, they would be gearing up to go after the big welfare kings and queens -- you and me.

They would be itching to kill the student loan program. If parents don't save to put their kids through college, shame on them.

They'd scrap workman's comp and unemployment insurance, and let workers buy their own coverage against misfortune. Maybe some could get their employers to kick in a little.

The reformers would eliminate the minimum wage. Why should the government force consumers to cover the cost of employees who could be made to work for less?

Deposit insurance would be ended. People who are smart enough to pick the right bank or savings and loan are paying for the dummies who pick the wrong one.

The deduction for home-mortgage interest is a huge welfare drain on the Treasury. Why should we be able to buy a house before we're rich enough to do it on our own? We'd feel a lot better about ourselves that way, too, knowing we hadn't been coddled by the government.

Then, of course, there's all the welfare for business -- oil and gas write-offs, tax-exempt bonds for private development, subsidies for mergers and acquisitions.

If we were serious about ending the welfare state, ranchers and miners would have to pay market rates to use federal lands.

Farm subsidies would be unloaded. Most go to prosperous farms, not struggling ones. And why should taxpayers subsidize losers anyway?

All those programs together add up to our real welfare state, and if screwy here and there, it is on balance no bad thing. It is one way we help each other.

You will perhaps have noticed, however, that there's little movement under way to end many of the system's most dubious features and none to end them all.

The anti-welfare activists also have said they will hold two of the biggest entitlement programs either harmless or nearly so -- Social Security and Medicare.

Indeed, the welfare warriors are proposing additional boons. They want to end the tax system's marriage penalty and hand out an additional $500 income-tax break for children. Fine, but those are giveaways, mostly to the well-enough off.

So the ''welfare state'' these keen new policy soldiers want to destroy turns out to be, after all, pretty much the same old ragtag of welfare mothers and children and of poor folks who need Medicaid and public housing.

Change in those programs is called for. Republicans and Democrats agree about that. But if the change is to be conscionable and socially helpful -- and not just brutish, a temper tantrum against the poor for still being with us -- it must be careful and guided by caring, not driven by doctrine.

Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan., is sounding a wise caution against rash action, warning against ''kamikaze'' reform. It is not clear she can be heard over the war whoops.

Tom Teepen is a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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