Robert Knight

In celebration of the Gipper's birthday, Townhall is featuring a series of concise examples of Mr. Reagan's wisdom, mostly in his own words, drawn from The Reagan Resolve, a monograph compiled by the Carleson Center for Welfare Reform.

Ronald Reagan recognized that the expansion of the welfare state was the greatest threat to federalism, and fighting it was a driving force throughout his political career.

California in 1971 was heading toward bankruptcy because of the massive growth in welfare spending. As Governor, Reagan discovered he was greatly hampered by federal welfare rules and policies. But, working with his welfare reform champion Robert B. Carleson, Reagan was still able to achieve great savings for the state’s taxpayers and better serve the poor by focusing assistance to those most truly in need.

As a result of the tremendous savings generated by removing the non-needy from the welfare rolls, Ronald Reagan was able to deliver the first benefit increase to California’s most needy citizens in over a decade and a half. As Reagan expressed his concerns on the subject at the time:

“Welfare needs a purpose: to provide for the needy, of course, but more than that, to salvage these, our fellow citizens, to make them self-sustaining and, as quickly as possible, independent of welfare. There has been something terribly wrong with a program that grows ever larger even when prosperity for everyone else is increasing. We should measure welfare’s success by how many people leave welfare, not by how many are added.”

[Remarks at Governor’s Conference on Medicaid, San Francisco, 1968]

In testifying as Governor before the Senate Finance Committee in 1972, Reagan said:

“… I consider the welfare problem the gravest domestic issue our Nation faces …. I believe that:

1. States are better equipped than the federal government to administer effective welfare reforms if they are given broad authority to utilize administrative and policy discretion.

2. A system of a guaranteed income, whatever it may be called, would not be an effective reform of welfare, but would tend to create an even greater human problem.

3. A limit should be set on the gross income a family can receive and still remain eligible for welfare benefits.

4. For all those who are employable, a requirement be adopted that work in the community be performed as a condition of eligibility for welfare benefits without additional compensation.

Robert Knight

Robert Knight is an author, senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a frequent contributor to Townhall.