Richard M. Nixon: Politician, President, Administrator

By Leon Friedman; William F. Levantrosser | Go to book overview

7
Outflanking the Liberals on Welfare

JOAN HOFF-WILSON

Both popular and academic opinion held that Nixon would not recommend any noteworthy social reform. "With Richard Nixon as president, the nation can expect few significant initiatives on the poverty front," predicted one confident political scientist at Miami University in January 1969. "He will not junk the poverty program altogether, but he will have no appetite for innovations such as a guaranteed annual income." 1 The Miami University professor might have been spared some embarrassment had Nixon proceeded no further with welfare reform than the major recommendations made by a transition task force headed by Richard Nathan, a fiscal-policy expert and research associate at The Brookings Institution. Nathan had been specifically chosen because he was not a welfare specialist, on the assumption that only a generalist outside the field would be objective. 2


LIMITATIONS OF THE NATHAN REPORT

When the handpicked members of Nathan's welfare task force first met at Brookings on December 6, 1968, he told them that they were not to recommend any expensive negative income tax. He also informed them that he had already decided on his "own AFDC freeze." Thus, he arbitrarily set a $1.5-2 billion limit on what the group could propose in the way of welfare reform. Nathan later said that he based this figure entirely on anticipated budgetary constraints-- not on the projected welfare needs of the poor. "I wanted to see what could be done to make it a better, more equitable system within this limit," Nathan told White House Fellow Franklin D. Raines. This figure marked the beginning of a capricious "numbers game" in the formulation of welfare policy, as the proponents of various plans "tried to do too much with too little" in the hope of impressing an economically minded president. 3

Although no task force member "quarreled with the group rules" laid down

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