In Context: Gov. Scott Walker's "from dependence to independence" speech
By Tom Kertscher
Published on Thursday, February 21st, 2013 at 9:00 a.m.
"In Context" is an occasional feature of PolitiFact Wisconsin. It is intended to give readers the context of a statement that has received widespread attention.
When Gov. Scott Walker proposed reforming Medicaid, food stamps and unemployment compensation, all in one speech, the howls from the left were sharp.
"We can’t implore people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they don’t even have boots," U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., said of Walker’s decision not to expand Medicaid.
"It shows a complete departure from the mainstream Republican Party," said state Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee. "I think we’re seeing the results of his ideology, choosing his ideology over the people of Wisconsin."
So that’s how political opponents of Walker, who increasingly is viewed as a presidential candidate in 2016, framed his speech. What did he actually say?
Here are excerpts from Walker’s 37-minute speech, given to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce’s "business day" gathering in Madison on Feb. 13, 2013, the day after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech.
The governor introduced his remarks by saying his theme would be entitlement reform and going "from dependence to independence."
"There’s a whole group of people out there in Washington and some here in Wisconsin who define success by how many people are dependent on the government. You hear talk about wanting more people on Medicaid, wanting more people on food stamps, wanting more people on unemployment checks ….
"My view of success is not by how many people are dependent on the government, but more importantly by how many people are no longer dependent on the government. Not because we’ve kicked them out into the streets; no, but because instead we’ve empowered them to control their own destiny through a job in the private sector. That means more freedom and more prosperity for them and all the rest of us in this state ….
"I want the funding that we provide to things like Medicaid to be for what it was meant for -- for people who are poor, not to be a permanent way of life, but to be a temporary hand up, not a permanent hand out. And so, what our goal is, not only are we dramatically reducing the number of people who today are uninsured, through our proposal, but we’re reducing the number of people who are on Medicaid and increasing the number of people who are getting covered under the private insurance market or under the exchanges. To me, that just seems like a logical way to go because in the end, not only is it better for me and you as a taxpayer, because there’s less of a federal and state match that we have to plug into Medicaid, it empowers people to have greater control over their lives" ….
"You see, a lot of people don’t know this, but the federal government has a requirement that" able-bodied, childless adults … have to either work or get some work training. But over the years, Wisconsin’s been one of the 46 states that asked for a waiver. Well, I notified the government at the federal level at the end of last year that we weren’t going to ask for that waiver anymore. And instead, I put in this budget $16.9 million to establish a training program so that for 75,878 FoodShare recipients who are childless adults who aren’t enrolled already in an education program to get them ready for a job, if they want to get food stamps in the future, they have to be getting job-ready training ….
"It just seems ridiculous to me that we’re just handing out food stamps without any expectation. Not only in terms of work or preparation for work but because our goal should be, if you are able bodied and a childless adult in this state, we should be providing you a temporary hand up until you can find a spot where your talents can plug into a job in this state and we’re so committed to that, we care so deeply about you in this state -- and I mean this in all earnestness -- we care so deeply about those individuals who right now are suffering from unemployment or other options out there, that we’re going to give you the training you need so that when a job opportunity becomes available, you’ve got the skills needed to step right up and take that job.
"That’s not just good for the taxpayers, that’s not just good for the community, most importantly, that’s for the person who is the recipient of that food stamp right now because more than anything better than a food stamp to that recipient, we’re giving them dignity, we’re giving them the right and the opportunity to get the skills needed to get a job and get back up on their feet again" ....
"There’s a whole group of people who right now are getting unemployment compensation, who are getting unemployment checks, who have to go out and twice a week have to look for a job. Twice a week ….
"Instead of saying twice a week, we want you to go out four or more times a week to find a job. Now, I had to laugh when I first talked about this, I got some pushback from a couple people in the media who said, ‘Oh, the governor is trying to make it harder to get unemployment. And I thought, OK, I’m going from two to four and a little voice in my head reminded me of what my parents would say when I was a kid if I was looking for work and they’d say, ‘You need to be out five days a week if you’re without a job because you should be working every day there’s a store or a factory or a business open trying to find work.’ And so all we’re doing is saying four times out of every week, you should be looking for work ….
"And this is another example, whether it’s food stamps, getting the training you need to get prepared for a job, or it’s saying if you want to get help in terms of unemployment compensation, we want to make sure you’re out hustling each and every week as much as reasonably as possible to go out and find that job. We’re going to give you the skills and the backing and the opportunity to do that, but you’ve got to work to make that happen as well. I don’t think that’s an unrealistic expectation" ....
"Nobody grows up in America, nobody comes to this country saying, ‘Someday, I’d like to be dependent on the government.’ And yet so many people in Washington seem to push us at the state level and state governments to try and say that the only way we can be successful is somehow if we broaden the number of programs that we provide and encompass more people. And they put all these financial incentives to somehow entice us into thinking that maybe that’s a good thing in the short term, despite the fact that with a $16.5 trillion budget deficit -- or debt -- it’s pretty hard to imagine that they have the money to keep those commitments.
"But even if they did, set aside the money for a minute and think from a moral standpoint, from a moral standpoint, are we really doing the people of this state a service? If we continue to build a series of programs whose overwhelming purpose is to add more people to that system? I think the moral claim here is that we want people to succeed. That’s why I’d end with these two phrases: self-reliance and independence. To me, this debate, this discussion, this battle we’ll have yet again in this next budget, is simply about going from where we started from -- dependence -- to where, I think, most of us in this room, most of us in this state, most of us in this country would prefer to head to, and that’s to independence ….
"Some will portray this as not caring about people; I think it’s just the opposite. I care too much about the people of this state not to empower them to control their own destiny. I care too much about their future, and I think you do, too, and I think most people, you sit down over a breakfast table with a cup of coffee and a piece of toast -- most people, if they had the time to talk about it, most people understand, even for those people who today are on food stamps or unemployed, looking for work, I would argue the vast majority of the people in this state who are temporarily without employment would tell you that what they want more than anything is the chance to have a job again. They want the chance to step up and take on that job, take on that opportunity, take care of their own family, those are the people who are truly courageous. Not people who are engaged in political battles …."
Wisconsin Eye, video of Gov. Scott Walker speech (starts at about 6:00), Feb. 13, 2013
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Walker rejects full Medicaid expansion, says 224,000 more to be covered," Feb. 13, 2013
U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, statement, Feb. 13, 2013
Interview, state Sen. Chris Larson, Feb. 19, 2013
Researchers: Tom Kertscher
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