The following Op-Ed by Rick Santorum first appeared on Ricochet.com on March 29, 2012:
I believe that poverty is not a permanent condition. I believe in human dignity and the American vision of equality of opportunity. I believe in freedom, hard work, and upward mobility. I believe that the future should be better for all of our children -- this is my mission as a presidential candidate to promote freedom and opportunity in this great nation. I believe in promoting entrepreneurship and freedom for an individual or family starting a small business, not just large businesses with a head start. Excessive government regulation and taxation makes it harder for entrepreneurs to succeed and to hire workers. This is why I consistently opposed tax increases and fought to lower them. I will continue to do so and will repeal burdensome regulations to create opportunity in America.
Under President Obama’s economic and regulatory policies, poverty rates are at historic and tragic highs with 1 in 6 Americans living in poverty, and 1 in 4 children receiving food stamps. I also understand that if we are serious about addressing poverty in this country then we must support policies that create an environment for work, marriage and family, quality education, access to capital, and civil society to prosper. Americans are better off when they have a job rather than food stamps and a family rather than a social worker. Americans don’t want access to government programs, they want access to a job and to capital so they and their families can prosper. I will lower the tax burden on working families and triple the child deduction. I will lower the tax burden on all businesses and eliminate it for manufacturing so that our nation is stronger and more Americans can once again have good middle income jobs which sustain struggling families and communities.
This was the vision behind welfare reform, the first successful effort to end a federal entitlement which was holding back many Americans rather than helping them. I successfully led this effort, not to punish people, but to help them in difficult times to create their own opportunity with the support of civil society. I enjoyed debating former Senators Ted Kennedy and Daniel Patrick Moynihan and others on the left during the extended debate on welfare reform and promoting local solutions to poverty. I also hired several women off of welfare into my offices and learned more of the practical challenges that they face seeking to care for and provide for their children. We successfully reformed the welfare program, ending the first entitlement for the first time. I believe that people in America are entitled to equality of opportunity in a free society.
It has also been my privilege to advocate for the great work of the many thousands of small and large charities throughout our country. These community and faith-based organizations often know the names of those in need and live in the same zip codes, unlike the federal government. I also successfully promoted expanded incentives for charitable giving and stood against government restrictions on civil society. I was the only one in the Senate at the time with a conservative anti-poverty agenda. Liberals didn’t have one either- just more taxes and more government, what we now call Obamanomics. Why did I spend so much time and energy on these issues? Because my faith tells me to care for the least of these, because I am inspired by the often unheralded “little platoons” which work to transform families and communities one at a time around our country, and because I believe that government imposed solutions are not solutions at all in the long run.
We should also put wind behind the back of great charities like the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities rather than opposing them and discriminating against them like the Obama Administration and the left have done because of their faith, which motivates them to do their service and is protected by our Constitution.
A Brookings Institute study in 2009 determined that only 2 percent of Americans that work, graduate from high school, and get married before you have children end up in poverty. 77 percent of these Americans are above the national average in income. It is important that we institute policies that encourage these principles so Americans can avoid poverty. We need bold and local solutions for America’s families to get people into jobs, enhance our education system, expand access to capital and financial education, and promote marriage.
Reforming welfare focused on moving recipients off welfare rolls and to experience the dignity of earning a paycheck and providing for their family. Food stamps usage has increased by 41 percent since President Obama took office. This is not the hope and change that folks were looking for. More than 1 in 7 U.S. adults—and again an astonishing 1 in every 4 children—today receive food stamps. As President, I will work with Congress to return social innovation to the states and local communities to bring success and control costs of other social welfare programs. I will block grant and cap spending on other social programs such Medicaid, housing, food stamps, job training, and many education programs as we did in the Welfare Reform Act.
Another key ticket out of poverty is completing a good education. As a nation we must dramatically reform education and return the decision-making responsibility to the consumer, the parent. Putting “parents first” is how best we put “students first”. Parents have the fundamental right to direct the upbringing and education of their children with local school systems supporting, as desired. Reforms at the local level should be focused on expanding consumer choice in public, private, and personalized education, attracting the best teachers to be competitive as a nation, and rewarding excellence, innovation, and personalizing to the needs of individual students rather than governments or unions.
Under the status quo, many urban school districts have offensively low graduation rates; some like Cleveland and Baltimore are around 40%. A 2009 study reported that only 53% of all young people in the nation’s 50 largest cities are graduating from high school on time. While the solutions do not lie with the federal government, this should be unacceptable for all Americans who embrace expanded opportunity and are serious about addressing poverty. Nationwide, nearly 1 in 3 high school students fail to graduate with 1.2 million dropping out each year.
Finally, and most importantly I believe that we cannot be neutral on the concept and foundational institution of marriage. In too many instances, particularly in our minority communities, children are being raised in broken homes. While there are many heroic single parents, the overwhelming evidence is that kids benefit strongly from having a mom and a dad. No government social program can produce the same positive outcomes for kids. Healthy marriages and involved fathers are some of the best poverty fighting strategies there are after getting a job. I will address the importance of marriage and the challenge of absent fathers head-on, because doing so makes sense both for our society and our economy. Today, more than 25 million American children, including 64% of African-American children and 36% of Hispanic children, live in father-absent homes. Research tells us that low-income children without a father at home are five times more likely to remain poor. When marriage is not an option, responsible fathers need to step up, be courageous, and be active in the lives of their sons and daughters. Kids desperately want and need this. Parenting seven beautiful, diverse, and unique children has been one of the great privileges of my life.
As President, I will encourage state and local solutions that strengthen marriage and support for low-income families so that dads are incentivized to support their children and be involved in their lives. I believe that the best solutions and the best assistance is that which is closest to the challenge being addressed or problem being solved. I will not attempt to “transform” faith-based and community organizations into bureaucratic arms of the federal government, but will instead look to devolve resources to states and local governments, much as I did in reforming welfare. While I will dramatically simplify the tax code, I will keep the charitable deduction to promote charitable giving and to affirm the generosity of Americans helping their neighbors in need.
President Obama and Mitt Romney believe that the very poor are OK when the government is taking care of them. I believe that the poor in America, just like all Americans, are better off when they are able to take care of themselves and their families with a job and with the help of their communities. Dignity is enhanced by work and opportunity; it is not enhanced by government dependency.
We need to promote freedom and opportunity, pro-growth tax and regulatory policies which create jobs, affirm marriage, expand access to capital, and promote educational excellence and empower parents with quality educational options for their children in order to attack poverty at its core and help struggling families throughout America. This is how we help the least of these in America, not through Big Government but through expanded opportunity and bold leadership.