WASHINGTON—As Republicans near the finish line on a long-sought tax overhaul, President Donald Trump has committed them to taking up a welfare-revamp fight next.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly said he is interested in kick-starting a debate around means-tested social programs, with allies seeing significant political rewards from taking up the issue even without a clear-cut goal.
“Does anyone want welfare reform?” Mr. Trump asked, to applause, at a speech in Missouri last week. “And infrastructure. But welfare reform, I see it, and I’ve talked to people. I know people that work three jobs and they live next to somebody who doesn’t work at all.”
He added: “And the person who is not working at all and has no intention of working at all is making more money and doing better than the person that’s working his and her ass off… So we’re going to go into welfare reform.”
The president didn’t offer specifics about which of the dozens of welfare programs he was seeking to change, or how. But congressional Republicans who have been pushing him for months to pursue the issue have proposed layering tougher work requirements on beneficiaries of programs such as food stamps, which are used by around 43 million Americans, and the cash benefit known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which is received by around 3.5 million people.
Such proposals have been floated in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “A Better Way” plan, which included a broader call to review the ways in which welfare programs interact, as well as bills from lawmakers such as Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), who also has proposed tallying spending on all welfare programs.
A spokesman for Mr. Ryan said the goals for 2018 would be set at a conference retreat in January. But Mr. Jordan, a head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who often has the ear of the president, has argued in recent weeks that the issue is one of the most winning ones with Mr. Trump’s voters and should take center stage next year.
He said he and fellow conservative Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.) had made a pitch to the president to pursue welfare as an issue in a meeting in the early summer.
“He gets it,” Mr. Jordan said. “I think there are lots of folks across the country who get it, but particularly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, folks understand that they’re working hard, doing what’s right for their family, and there are folks who can work, and won’t work, and they’re getting their money.”
Democratic lawmakers have indicated they are ready for a fight, in which they will argue proposals to change assistance programs are a sign of misplaced priorities by Republicans who favored the rich in the tax overhaul.
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