Bush touts 'liberation' of his welfare plan
MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin (CNN) -- President Bush urged lawmakers Tuesday to approve his prescription to overhaul welfare, which combines tougher work requirements with initiatives to promote marriage.
"Welfare reform to me means liberation from dependency," Bush told citizens and community leaders in Milwaukee. "It means we realize each person matters, and if we can help find work, it means there's dignity."
The president's speech marked the second time in two days he has visited a Midwest city to promote his "compassionate conservative" domestic agenda.
Bush said that a welfare program "must insist upon work." It also should help people find employment, either through training or job placement, he said.
"As we reauthorize welfare we've got to do more," Bush said. "We've got to make sure the progress made is not undermined."
Landmark welfare legislation passed in 1996 will expire at the end of September unless it is reauthorized. Democrats and Republicans largely agree that overhauling welfare has been a success, moving thousands of families out of dependency into the job market.
But the two sides disagree over how the program should continue, with Republicans seeking tougher work requirements. There are big differences between versions of welfare legislation in the Republican-led House and the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The Senate bill would maintain a requirement that adults work 30 hours a week to be eligible for government aid. The House bill would boost the minimum to 40 hours, which Bush supports. The House has passed its version, but the full Senate has not taken up the matter yet.
Bush also plugged school vouchers, recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as constitutional, and an initiative for minority home ownership, as he did Monday in Cleveland, Ohio. (Full story)
The president touted his plan to permit religious groups to have a greater role in delivering taxpayer-financed social services.
"Our government should not fear faith" in society, he said, adding that officials should not ask an organization if it believes in God but instead, "Does your program work?"
As an example, Bush pointed to a Jewish agency that feeds the hungry in New York.
"They don't ask, 'What is your religion? ... They ask, 'Are you hungry?' " Bush said.
Federal agencies, he added, must remove "regulations that discriminate against faith-based groups."
"The government can hand out money, and we do a pretty good job of it, but what government cannot do is put hope in people's hearts or a sense of purpose in their lives," he said.
"That's been the fallacy of the federal government-only approach to helping people help themselves. When we find programs that work and we find a place that is actually effective at helping people, this government ought to welcome such programs."
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