Stage set for showdown on Capitol Hill over welfare reform

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- Republicans closed out 2017 by approving sweeping tax cuts. Now, some in the GOP hope that win will catapult them to tackle federal welfare programs.

“Welfare reform is at the top of the list," said Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO), who sits on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. ”The way that the system is set up, it’s not working. We need to revamp it.”

In recent weeks, Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump have said this issue is a top concern for Congress in the new year.

Smith wants more government oversight of the earned income tax credit program. He wants to ensure those applying for the tax break – largely low to moderate income working families – actually qualify for it.

“I think just requiring a social security number in that could save almost 40 billion dollars to make sure that there’s not improper payments," said Smith.

The nonpartisan Pew Research Center wrote last year that more than two-thirds of the total budget goes toward various types of social insurance, including Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

While many in the GOP say they have long-term spending concerns, Melissa Boteach from the Center for American Progress says safety net programs must be protected.

“Taking away people’s health care or housing or food isn’t going to help them find a job any faster," said Boteach.

Smith responded, “People who can’t help themselves, we need to take care of. It’s the able-bodied healthy adults…we need to push them, to show them, that they can have a better quality of life by working and by having goals."

Boteach doesn’t buy that upcoming GOP proposals will make people on welfare more responsible.

“[Republicans] are turning to what they call welfare reform, which is really just code for cuts to your health care, nutrition, etc," she said.

The House and Senate begin picking back up their work in Washington next week. There are no plans publicly released yet on welfare reform.

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