Robert Dole photo

Remarks to the Business Leaders Luncheon in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin

May 21, 1996

Thank you very much. Thank you.

[applause]

Thank you. All right.

Governor, I thank you very much. I've been taking a poll starting yesterday on how many people think I made the right decision last week to resign from the Senate and run full time for president. How-many agree me?

[applause]

Lisa , I'm very honored to be in your presence and hear about your success story. And it's only one of the many, many, many in the great state of Wisconsin.

And I have come to America's heartland to talk about the heart and soul of our nation.

I come not as a senator — for not very long at least — or as a majority leader, but as man — a man who has spent his life in service to America and to the American ideals of freedom, and human dignity, opportunity and personal responsibility.

I come to speak to you about an issue which under the leadership of Governor Tommy Thompson has risen to the top of the national agenda. That issue is, of course, welfare reform.

Thirty years ago, the Great Society was liberalism's greatest hope and its greatest boast.

Today, it stands as its greatest shame, a grant failure that has crushed the spirit, destroyed the families and decimated the culture of those who have become enmeshed in its web.

It has created something we never had before in this country — a permanent, dependent class, robbed of dignity, and robbed of hope.

So $5 trillion later, all we have a growing record of catastrophic failure, a federal highway paved with good intentions that leads directly into the hellish corners of some of our inner cities.

In 1964, when the first massive welfare spending or Great Society passed Congress, President Johnson very proudly declared that it would, break the cycle of poverty, that it would give a hand up and not a hand-out."

That's what he said. And the premise of the Great Society was that the basic institutions of American life do not work, that the path from poverty to self-sufficiency that so many millions of immigrants and settlers had taken before and so many millions of newer immigrants would take later had been closed and that massive government intervention was the only way to insure fairness.

That liberal premise was patently false. within a few years after the massive social spending of the Great Society got underway, the positive trends of the '50s and early '60s were reversed.

DOLE: Dependency increased and poverty increased. But that doesn't tell the full story.

The poverty rate by itself is too antiseptic a term to evoke the human agony and social wreckage of these good intentions gone awry — the killing compassion of the welfare state.

We all know the list of horrors. Crack babies who start out life from the first day with two strikes against them. The plague of illegitimacy in our inner cities, as high as 80 percent in some areas. Children giving birth to children we know will be dramatically more susceptible to low birth weight and disease and physical abuse and drug addiction. An epidemic of violence the likes of which this country has never seen before, so bad that by 1970 a child raised in our nation's biggest cities was more likely to be killed than an American soldier serving on the battle field during World War II.

And the latest phenomenon, police departments in our cities warn of a new generation of "super predators," children growing up in a shattered society riddled with drugs who have no compunction about taking human life.

If some enemy of our country wanted to undermine the fabric of American society, it cannot inflict anything upon us worse than the welfare system we have inflicted on ourselves. That's just how bad it's gotten.

[applause]

And because we are Americans, we are generous of spirit and large of heart. But our hearts must be in the right place, and perpetuating a destructive welfare system under the guise of compassion is not in the spirit of all that made this country great.

As the governor said, four years ago candidate Clinton came to Wisconsin, and he promised, and I want to repeat, and I quote, "end welfare as we know it."

As we have seen time and time again, however, the words of candidate Clinton bear no relation to the actions of President Clinton.

Last Congress passed historic welfare reform legislation written in partnership with Tommy Thompson and America's governors. This bill provided maximum state flexibility. For the first time, it converted welfare into a work program, limiting lifetime welfare benefits to five years. It gave the state the tools and the incentive to combat out of wedlock births. And it would have saved America's taxpayers about $60 billion over the next seven years.

And when faced with the choice of enacting those reforms or ensuring the survival of the tragic status quo, President Clinton unfortunately chose the status quo.

Apparently, he had no qualms about denying the American dream to another generation.

The Republicans didn't give up, and spurred on again by Governor Thompson and America's governors we gave President Clinton a second chance. And guess what? He vetoed welfare reform once again.

DOLE: Now, let me be as clear as I can. As president, my actions will match my words. As president ...

[applause]

As president, I will send real and meaningful welfare reform legislation to Congress early in the next year and I will insist on its swift passage. And I will sign it. That's the difference. I will sign it.

[applause]

And, when I say real welfare reform, I mean requiring every abled-body welfare recipient to find work within two years or a shorter period of time if the state so desires. I mean giving the states — President Clinton, I might say, on the other hand, has no means, no real program, no real work requirement until the year 2004 in the next century.

And I mean giving states the ability to stop payments to unmarried teens. President Clinton's plan avoids this tough choice. And I mean a real five-year lifetime limit on welfare payments with few exceptions. And President Clinton's plan means no real limits and no real change.

And I mean making certain that illegal non-citizens are ineligible for all but emergency benefits.

And President Clinton's plan, once again, avoids this tough decision. But, above all — and this is the point I want to underscore — I mean trusting the nation's governors with the flexibility they need to create the laboratories of our democracy. President Clinton's plan ...

[applause]

And, again, President Clinton's plan means trusting only federal bureaucrats in Washington. As you all know, if you've ever seen a spin machine, they've got a great one in the White House.

[laughter]

They spin all week and all weekends.

And they've been in overtime. I think their machines probably need to be oiled, but they have plenty of oil.

[laughter]

Now, they're going to get some more from Iraq, but, in any event ...

[laughter]

... it's been on overdrive this weekend. After years of resisting every attempt to end America's horrible welfare system, President Clinton endorsed Governor Thompson's welfare reform package which needs federal waivers to become law.

Now, we were all excited. But we knew it was Saturday. And we knew then would come Sunday.

[laughter]

And then Monday. And then probably a change.

[applause]

Frankly, we all hoped the president meant what he said. But I'm sorry to say it's another attempt to have it both ways. He didn't say he would actually grant the waiver. In fact, according to the same story — we both read the Washington Post from time to time; not too often, but from time to time ...

[laughter]

... It's right here. "The White House is backpeddling again. The White House cites White House aide, Harold Ickes, as saying that the details of the Wisconsin plan will have to be negotiated, as the governor just stated, and that some of these details will be changed before the federal government grants the necessary waivers.

This, of course, is no surprise. Every time it's had the opportunity in other states, the Clinton administration has blocked firm time limits on welfare, the heart of the Wisconsin plan, and of any serious plan to end welfare as we know it.

DOLE: The White House has trumpeted the president's action this week as proof of his commitment to welfare reform. In reality, however, it's proof of the president's belief that fixing welfare is a job best handled from Washington, D.C.

As any of our 50 governors can tell you, Wisconsin is one of many states who have to play the so-called waiver game, trekking to Washington, D.C., hat in hand to beg for approval to fix a failed system. Waiver applications often run over 100 pages, and the turn-around time is measured in years and not days. As a matter of fact, there are currently 27 other welfare waivers and 18 states currently awaiting the president's approval.

Some of these applications have been pending since 1994. And the average delay of each of them is 210 days. If the president is serious about welfare reform, then he will do the following.

He will sign California's waiver today. He will sign Florida's waiver today. And while he's got his pen in hand, he will sign the waivers of Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.

But even if the president signs all of these, and he won't, the bottom line is that we cannot reform welfare on one waiver at a time. Such a response is too little and too late for the families trapped in a failed system. In a Dole administration, no state will have to play the waiver game.

Washington does not have all the answers. The federal role should be limited and should include oversight to make certain the states can meet the needs of their poor. But problems are best solved and always been best solved at the local level.

[applause]

And in my administration, states will be free to do what is right. I trust Governor Thompson, don't you? I trust him to do the right thing.

[applause]

This is not a partisan issue. You know, we have Republican governors and we have Democratic governors. I trust the governors. I trust the state legislators. I trust Carol . Did a great job. I trust Democratic legislators.

Our Founding Fathers were so concerned about all this power vesting in Washington, D.C. They put a 10th Amendment to the Constitution, part of the bill of rights into the Constitution a couple hundred years ago.

It's only 28 words in length, and all it says in, effect, is this. Unless the Constitution grants the federal government the power, or denies it to the states, it belongs to the states and to the people. And that's where it ought to go.

[applause]

Power and power and power has been moving in the wrong direction. And our Founding Fathers were concerned of that. Concerned about getting too far away from the people.

You're the people. And also those who must receive the benefits. I mean, Lisa wouldn't have had a job if she'd been waiting for the federal government.

DOLE: She got a job because she had a limited waiver and Tommy Thompson had the foresight along with the legislature and a bipartisan way to pass good legislation and now she has a job.

[applause]

And one thing that's right is addressing a national epidemic of illegitimate births. As we all know, illegitimacy is what perpetuates a cycle of poverty from generation to generation. And too often it turns out that the baby born on welfare belongs to a girl, who herself is almost a baby, and who was born on welfare.

But we're just beginning to recognize that perhaps half of the fathers of those babies are grown men, 20 years old, or over. In other words, a central feature of the plague of illegitimacy is that older men pray upon young girls. Just as in the absence of presidential leadership, the nation's governors have taken the lead in reforming welfare in America today. Let me urge the nation of governors to take one more big step. Enforce the statutory rape laws you already have on your books and make them stronger where they ought to be stronger, but enforce them to the fullest.

[applause]

Solving the welfare problem must be including ending the epidemic of male sexual predators. And in my administration, we will also recognize that it is absolutely right for the states to sanction welfare recipients who test positive for drugs. And according to a Columbia University report, mothers receiving Aid To Families with Dependent Children — and this is a group that would be covered — are nearly three times as likely to abuse alcohol and illegal drugs as mothers who are not.

As many as 10 percent, 10 percent of all babies born in America are exposed to cocaine or crack in the womb. And that same Columbia University report estimates that as many as 200,000 drug exposed babies are born annually to mothers on AFDC.

Basic compassion and common sense dictate that the government must stop being the enabler of those who abuse drugs. Senator Christopher Bond of Missouri has pointed out that some welfare recipients who were turned down for employment because they flunk an employer's drug test, then turn around and use the results of that test, as proof that they are actually seeking employment, and deserve to remain on welfare. Now, that's sort of a twisted view, but that's the way it works.

And I believe the states should have the right, the state should have the right to require drug testing and deny, on their face, claims like the one Senator Bond discussed. And states should also have the right to adopt innovators such as providing welfare recipients with vouchers for diapers or baby formula in place of cash payments which might be used to purchase drugs or alcohol. I think it's a common sense solution.

[applause]

So, it's also the right time. It's also the right time for the state and federal government to step out of the surrogate parent role and ask people to take personal responsibility for their lives.

[applause]

It's about time we take personal responsibility, something we forgot in the last two or three decades in many cases.

DOLE: Each year, America fails to collect $34 billion of child support payments and that's a national disgrace. And this money often means the difference between living on welfare dependence or living independently.

And again, in my administration, we will work with the states to put teeth in the child support laws so that deadbeat parents live under their obligations — or live up to their obligations.

[applause]

And we will establish a uniform tracking system. We will automate child support proceedings in every state.

[applause]

And require that every effort is made to establish paternity. And do everything possible to insure that child support payments go to those who deserve them, and it ought to be done. We've been working on it for 10-15-20 years, started out a long time ago with Senator Long on the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Long, when he was chairman, from the great state of Louisiana.

Let me just say one more fact. The ultimate issue at stake here in serious welfare reform is not just dollars. It is not how many dollars and sense we can save but compassion.

It is not compassionate to lead people into a life of drugs, dependency and despair. There's nothing compassionate about that, but we've been doing it for 30 or 40 years.

Real compassion must sometimes take the form of tough love. It's time to get people out of the destructive lifestyles of welfare once and for all -children having children should stay at home and stay in school.

And my friends, we know what happened this weekend. Again, let me repeat, when President Clinton read I was coming to Wisconsin to discuss welfare reform, he suddenly decides he supports what Governor Thompson has done.

If this keeps up, Bill Clinton won't have to make speeches anymore. All he'll have to do is to find out my stand on an issue and just stand up and say, "Oh, me, too. Me, too."

[applause]

But too often, as I've found out many, many times, President Clinton's statements are like the tornadoes in the movie Twister. It looks like a lot is happening, but in reality it's all just special effects.

[laughter]

[applause]

But I've got to admit, America is benefiting from the calculated cynicism of Mr. Clinton and his advisers because in this election year, he's agreeing to things you will never see him agree to again.

[laughter]

And we all know, it would be a different Bill Clinton if he were somehow to win re-election. His liberalism unrestrained by the need to face American people again, instead of trying to pre-empt the Republican initiatives, he will do what comes naturally — raising your taxes again, blocking education reform, imposing more social experiments on our military, mandating more regulations, appointing more permissive judges, and the rest of his sorry grab bag of liberal policies.

That's what he does in normal times. Now ...

[applause]

Now, the press says it's working but the press says a lot of things he does is working.

Most of them voted for him.

[laughter]

But to paraphrase — to paraphrase Harry Truman, given a choice between a Republican and a Democrat who tries to act like a Republican, the American people will choose the real thing every time.

WEBWIRE-

DOLE: And that's going to happen on November 5, 1996.

[applause]

Ladies and gentlemen, we don't need four more years of broken promises. The one reason to elect me is to keep all the promises he has broken, because some of them weren't bad. Tax cuts, welfare reform, all those things he talked about.

But we need a president who will sign a genuine welfare reform package. It's time for presidential leadership that says what it means and means what it says and will bring such leadership to the White House.

And if we're going to get America back on the right track, we need a leader who will confront the failures of big government honestly and forthrightly. Who has the integrity to face difficult truths ...

[applause]

Who has the integrity to face difficult truths without fear, without waffling, and who is not the rear guard of big government, but who means that when he says that the era of big government is over. I'll mean it when I say it. He said it, but he didn't mean it. And in the final analysis ... [applause]

And in the final analysis, a debate about welfare reform is all about a very basic issue of values. What we believe America has been, is and must remain. A nation of freedom, where the doors of opportunity are open to all, where our government reflects and respects the values on which families and neighborhoods and communities are built, where it holds proudly for all the world to see the torch of freedom that makes us the last best hope for humanity.

And to preserve and protect and defend these values, to insure that America's future is even greater than it's past, to make the torch of liberty shine even brighter. This is why I want to be the president of the United States.

And please join me in this great crusade. America's best days are still ahead of us. We've got great opportunities as we go into the next century. What we need is strong, strong, strong leadership, someone who understands.

Robert Dole, Remarks to the Business Leaders Luncheon in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/285569

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