WASHINGTON, D.C. - House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) made the following statement on the House Floor today regarding the Democratic alternative to the GOP welfare reform bill (as prepared for delivery):
"Today, the self-proclaimed compassionate conservatives drop their guard - and that charade.
This hard-hearted welfare reform bill literally mocks the increasing number of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet. And it forces cash-strapped states to swallow a huge unfunded mandate.
This GOP bill barks - Get a job! But it turns a blind-eye to the most obvious question facing any job seeker today - Where?
When Democrats and Republicans came together in 1996 and passed landmark welfare reform - ending welfare as we knew it - this nation was enjoying the longest peacetime expansion of our economy in 50 years. Twenty-two million new jobs were created during the 1990s.
I voted for welfare reform seven years ago because I strongly support the principle that you have to earn what you receive. And if you receive assistance, you have a responsibility to work if you can. But, oh, how circumstances have changed.
Today, our economy is stagnating. It's in its worst hiring slump in nearly 20 years. More than eight million jobless Americans are looking for work. And more than two million jobs have been lost since President Bush took office.
Yet, this GOP bill blithely ignores reality. It would impose unrealistic work requirements on recipients, even forcing mothers with children under the age of 6 to double the number of hours they are required to work each week to 40. At the same time, it utterly fails to provide the funding that is needed to back up these new work requirements. It flat funds assistance for child care, passing the buck to the states, which will be forced to spend an estimated $11 billion over the next five years to implement these new rules.
How do we expect the states to pay for this unfunded mandate? They were forced to address a $49 billion budget shortfall in Fiscal 2003, and, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures, face a minimum $68.5 billion budget shortfall in Fiscal 2004.
On its own merits this bill is bad enough. But when considered in the context of the failed economic policies of this Administration, it's outrageous. The GOP wants to crack down on the single mom who's trying her best to work and still take care of her kids. And at the same time it supports a plan that would give the top 1 percent of income earners almost a $25,000 tax cut.
Where's the compassion in that?
I urge my colleagues to vote for the Democratic substitute. It would impose tough, but fair, work requirements. It would increase mandatory funding for child care by $11 billion over five years. And it would remove the ban on states providing assistance to legal immigrants with Federal funds."