Senators Landrieu and Enzi
April 30, 1997
in this forum:
Is the pace of the Senate right? Should the Senate have signed the Chemical Weapons Treaty? Is Congress addressing the big issues? What about America's poor? SEN. LANDRIEU: What is the status of the investigation into your election? SEN. ENZI: What does it mean to be the "Cyber Senator"?
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A question from Carly Thompson of New Orleans, LA:
It seems that little is being said or done to help America's poor. All I see on TV is talk about middle class tax relief and capital gains relief. What is being done to assist those who don't have any capital gains and aren't middle class? I am not talking about tax relief, but about urban renewal, education and job training?
Senator Landrieu responds:
I can certainly understand your frustration with the apparent lack of attention to the problems facing those poorest in America's cities - those without means even to pay income taxes much less benefit from tax relief. I understand that we cannot rebuild our poorest communities by imposing cookie-cutter solutions from Washington. We have to give communities the tools they need to create opportunity.
Citizens, local government, the private sector and civic groups must come together and take the responsibility to rebuild their communities from the bottom up. Tax credits and cuts in capital gains tax rates won't do that not alone at least.
In Washington, much of the focus is on the same things you refer to in your question urban renewal, education and job training. Changing the tax code just happens to be one high profile vehicle for achieving improvements in those areas. To spur urban renewal, there are several bills that would provide incentives for the private sector to invest in urban areas where jobs are scarce.
Increasing access to education and job training is a personal priority of mine, as it is with many of my colleagues. I firmly believe that it is the foundation upon which success in the 21st Century will be built.
Your correct in stating that America's poor don't have the luxury of benefitting from a HOPE scholarship or a higher education tax deduction but they can benefit from an increase in Pell Grants, also part of the president's education proposal. That's not all we can do, though. The Senate is also considering permanent extension of a tax credit that employers can take to provide education opportunities for their employees.
These steps may be small, but they represent a tangible beginning to solving the pressing problems which face those less fortunate in our society. As this Congress progresses through the larger policy debate of the proper role of government to play in the lives of its citizens, I look forward to developing more progressive plans to rise the tide that will lift all our boats.
Senator Enzi responds:
Thank you for your question regarding America's poor. While I do not claim that there are any easy solutions to the problem of poverty, experience has shown us that federal government programs have done little to help alleviate poverty in the United States. Far from alleviating poverty, the federal welfare state has stripped the poor of their human dignity by encouraging them to stay dependent on federal subsidies. The federal welfare program encourages divorce and illegitimacy and leaves the majority of recipients in a worse position than when they began. This program creates a vicious cycle. Children born out of wedlock to single-parent families are much more likely to remain below the poverty level their entire lives than their peers born to two-parent families.
I should note that the problem of poverty, like many of the social problems in this country, is best handled at the level closest to the people affected. This means the problem can be handled best by families, communities, and the private sector. If government involvement is necessary, local and state government plans are preferable since these branches are more accountable for their money and can better monitor the impact of their proposals. I believe we should encourage volunteer organizations and private businesses to get more involved in their communities by serving those who are truly needy.
I do think that tax relief is a large part of the equation for long term relief of poverty. The $500-per-child tax credit would provide more money to all families, including those below the poverty line. This would help families who are struggling to pay for basic necessities. Tax relief helps everyone, but especially those in the lower and middle income brackets.
Thank you for your interest in our online forum. I appreciated hearing from you.