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Reagan, Deficit Shape Debate on Social Issues


November 16, 1987|LEE MAY | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration's seven-year effort to cut federal support of social programs has left a big footprint on the landscape of the 1988 presidential race.

The monumental budget deficits of recent years have inhibited the Democratic candidates, who are not echoing the calls of previous presidential election years for massive new spending programs. At the same time, sensing some erosion of Reagan's influence, many of them are advocating increased federal funding of some existing programs, such as day care for children and long-term care for the elderly.

Nor are the Republicans attacking these popular programs directly. But, in recognition of the deficits, they are typically calling for greater financial support by state and local governments.

Cuts 'Went Too Far'

"People feel Reagan went too far" in cutting social programs, said Robert Greenstein, director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "but there is little sympathy for making the world look the way it did before Ronald Reagan."

In written responses to a questionnaire submitted by The Times, all candidates agreed that job training should be part of any welfare reform, but Republicans were more likely than Democrats to require welfare recipients to work. And Republicans generally opposed a minimum income for welfare families, while Democrats typically favored it.

The issue of increasing the $3.35-per-hour minimum wage produced a clear split, with all Republicans opposed and all Democrats in favor.

Sharp party distinctions also emerged on whether the government should regulate industries, especially airlines and the telephone companies.

For example, Republican Alexander M. Haig Jr. said: "In general, the less regulation, the better."

But Sen. Albert Gore Jr., a Tennessee Democrat, accused the Administration of a "blind pursuit of deregulation" and called the deregulation of airlines in 1978--under the Administration of Jimmy Carter--"the most troubling case study of transportation deregulation."

Day-Care Funding

As for big-ticket social programs, most of the Democratic candidates supported more federally assisted day care for the children of working mothers. Increasing their sense of urgency is the popularity of proposals to require welfare recipients to work--a requirement that would necessitate day care in a great many cases.

Among Democrats, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt all favored providing day care as part of employment and training programs for poor people.

Gore called for incentives to employers who sponsor on-site child-care centers "where feasible and desirable." And Former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt said he would create a "universal voucher system" that would be "scaled to income and funded jointly by the federal government and the states."

Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois asserted that the government "has not provided enough assistance or leadership." The government, he said, should "expand the availability of early childhood options for parents and child-care providers, particularly in disadvantaged communities."

Federal aid for day care is now provided in a $2.5-billion annual grant to the states for a variety of social services. The states, in an innovation proposed by Reagan, have wide latitude to decide how much of the grants to use for day care and how much for other services.

Defends Reagan Policies

Among Republican candidates, Vice President George Bush, who called himself the Administration's "co-pilot," emerged in the survey as the most vigorous defender of Reagan's domestic spending policies.

Discussing day care, Bush said: "The responsibility for raising children belongs, above everyone else, to parents and not to the federal government. . . . We must be careful not to enact programs that would prejudice the incentives for traditional child-rearing among the poor and all Americans."

He advocated "experimenting at the state and local levels" and encouraging parents to use the tax credit for child-care expenses and to enroll their children in the Head Start program.

New York Rep. Jack Kemp, agreeing with Bush, said the government "must not infringe on the duties and rights of parents in deciding appropriate day care for children." He advocated increasing the personal tax exemption and "allowing state and local governments to take the lead" on providing day care.

Haig said education and job-training programs should have a day-care component, but he added that the costs "should not be borne entirely by the federal government or by any government."

Splits With Republicans

Kansas Sen. Bob Dole split with other Republicans on this issue, saying day-care programs should be financed as part of welfare. The "investment in child care is often critical" in encouraging people on welfare to enter the work force full time, he said.

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