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Doh, could you repeat that?

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July 21, 2006

By DEROY MURDOCK

Everybody knows that President Bush and the Republican Congress have chopped poverty spending to finance massive tax cuts for their wealthy friends.

“The Republican House just voted to slash health care for struggling families, cut college loans for middle-class kids, and take food off the tables of poor children,” the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees complained in TV ads during budget votes last December. As Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., moaned in the Washington Post, “I don’t know what the poor, the elderly, the disabled, or our foster children have done to Republicans to deserve this.”

Once again, what “everybody knows” turns out to be false.

Heritage Foundation budget analyst Brian Riedl actually looked at social spending under Republican control. What he finds is as astonishing as it is counterintuitive: Under the mean, nasty, coldhearted Republicans, expenditures on the poor have zoomed to record levels. In 2004, 16.3 percent of the federal budget went to anti-poverty efforts. This figure never has been higher.

In 2001, Bush and Congress spent $285.7 billion on 33 anti-poverty programs. By 2005, that sum had grown $111.2 billion to a total of $396.9 billion. That 39 percent boost far outstripped that period’s 10 percent cumulative inflation. Republican poverty spending soared at nearly quadruple the inflation rate, yet liberals concocted bumper stickers at the last election that read: “Bush ’04-Eat the Poor.”

Among the 33 distinct programs Riedl analyzed, two were eliminated (the Food Donations Program and Low Rent Public Housing Loans and Expenses). Seven others were reduced. The other 24 all increased. And how! Refugee & Entrant Assistance: Up 11 percent between 2001 and 2005. Homeless Assistance Grants: Up 33 percent. Food Stamps: Up 71 percent. Child Tax Credit Payments (from $982 million to $14.6 billion): Up 1,389 percent.

In order to leave no category behind, all four major areas of public relief have burgeoned. Between 2001 and 2005, Bush and the GOP Congress boosted housing aid by 26 percent, cash assistance by 37 percent, health care spending by 40 percent, and food support by 49 percent.

“The myth that antipoverty spending is being slashed also matters,” Riedl writes. “In an era of massive, unsustainable spending increases and budget deficits, this erroneous consensus has effectively taken one-fifth of the non-interest federal budget off the table. In fact, anything less than the baseline growth of as much as 8 percent per year is now considered by many to be unconscionable.”

Is this GOP geyser of anti-poverty money diluting, if not drowning, President Clinton’s welfare reform?

“The contract Congress of 1995-96 passed welfare reform and put the country on the high road toward far less dependence on government,” says Heritage scholar Bill Beach. “Since then, the growth of dependency-creating programs (from irresponsible expansions of health care to an explosion of agricultural and education subsidies) has forced Americans back on the low road of withering dependence and an expanding socialist management of private life.”

That is quite an indictment against America’s supposedly anti-government, pro-business party. While these figures rightfully should horrify free marketeers, they also ought to shield the GOP from the musty cliches about their lobbing poor folk onto the ice-encrusted railroad tracks just for laughs.

Republicans should refute the charge that they are trying to make America safe for Ebenezer Scrooge. At the same time, however, they should explain that there is a better way to help the poor than simply hosing them down with money. The GOP’s agenda should be to limit taxes and regulations that hinder entrepreneurship among the poor. Cutting taxes on business and personal income will increase growth, opportunity, employment, and wages.

To the degree government attempts to battle poverty, its expenditures should be targeted to the truly needy, not affluent seniors; disbursed as much as possible directly to beneficiaries, rather than to case workers and bureaucrats; and supervised in recipients’ cities and states, and less so by omniscient Washington functionaries.

Any Republican worth his elephant-emblazoned necktie should be able to make these arguments.

So when Democrats bellyache about the cruel, stingy Republicans who abandoned the poor (while showering them with $111.2 billion in brand-new social spending), please try to contain your laughter.

(New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.)