For my write-up today on Rick Santorum’s It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, I’ll highlight areas in which Rick Santorum worked with Democrats, in terms of what Santorum discussed in my latest reading of his book.
1. On pages 151-152, Santorum talks about his work with Senator Joseph Lieberman to create Individual Development Accounts for the low-income. (But I do not know if Lieberman was still a Democrat at the time that he worked with Santorum on this.) According to this plan, organizations would assist low-income clients in setting up accounts, train the clients on how to manage and grow them, and “match individual contributions to these accounts dollar-to-dollar up to $500 a year.” These accounts can be used for purchasing a home, paying for education, or starting a business, and Santorum says that the outcome will be “new businesses, new jobs, increased earnings, higher tax receipts, and reduced welfare expenditures.”
What would the federal government and state governments do in terms of these accounts? First of all, the interest accruing on these accounts would be tax-free. Second, there would be tax-credits for private institutions that create IDAs. And third, governments would contribute dollars. Santorum states that states are setting up IDA programs with money from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.
2. Okay, you’re saying that Lieberman is fairly conservative, and so it’s not a wonder that Santorum would work with him. But, on pages 152-153, Santorum talks about kicking around an idea with Senator Bob Kerrey and working with Senator Jon Corzine on a plan. This plan would create a tax-free (until the money is withdrawn) savings account for every child born in the United States. The federal government would contribute $500, and kids in homes that make below the median income could get additional money up to $500. Private interests can contribute to the accounts, and lower-income children would “be eligible to receive a dollar-for-dollar match on the first $500 contributed to their accounts each year.” Kids can withdraw the money once they turn 18, but they must leave $500 in the account for education, purchasing a home, or retirement.
3. I talked yesterday about Santorum’s controversial support for the Nehemiah Project, which helps the low-income to buy a house. With Diane Feinstein, Santorum introduced a bill that would consider the Nehemiah Project (and similar projects) a charitable activity under the IRS code. Santorum states on page 162 that “The bill will ensure that legitimate nonprofit assistance programs are protected while also providing some congressionally directed oversight to prevent abuses.”
4. On page 176, Santorum says that he worked with Republicans and former President Bill Clinton on incentivizing investment in low-income areas. Santorum states that the renewal communities “provide a variety of tax incentives, including a zero capital-gains rate for investments in these communities, while requiring those local communities and governments that wish to participate to shed unnecessary regulatory burdens.”
5. On page 179, Santorum discusses something that he and Carol Mosley Braun added to the 1996 welfare-reform law. It enabled people from poor areas to get to the suburbs to work, since low-skill jobs have migrated to the suburbs, and there are many among the urban poor who do not have cars. Unfortunately, many “mass-transit commuter routes” did not go out to the suburbs. Consequently, Santorum and Braun supported “Federal reverse-commuting dollars [helping to] subsidize routes from reclamation areas to suburban job centers.”
In light of the us vs. them tone that Santorum often uses in the book when talking about liberals and Democrats, I find his discussions about his bi-partisan work to be refreshing. At the same time, while I appreciate his goal of providing the low-income with a means to increase in wealth, I question whether it’s prudent to replace the welfare system (or parts of the welfare system) with his ideas. I wonder if his ideas could help the poor keep up with costs, the way that (say) food stamps and low-income federal housing do.