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January 8, 2009
Column #1,428
(second of three parts)
Cut the Budget Deficit - With Fewer in Need
by Mike McManus

President-Elect Barack Obama warned this week that government is likely to be left with "trillion-dollar deficits for years to come" unless officials "make a change in the way that Washington does business."

"We're going to have to stop talking about budget reform. We're going to have to totally embrace it. It is an absolute necessity."

How? The most strategic - and least considered - way to cut the deficit is to reduce the number of needy who seek welfare, food stamps, housing and tax subsidies. "A huge proportion of federal welfare costs are driven by divorce," asserts Dr. Pat Fagan of the Family Research Council. "Divorce is the main entry for families going into poverty."

In my recent book, How To Cut America's Divorce Rate in Half: A Strategy Every State Should Adopt, I propose that if a couple has minor children, that both parents should have to agree on any divorce. At present No Fault Divorce grants every divorce applied for by one partner, although their spouse opposes the divorce in four out of five cases.

The goal of the law should be to preserve the family and the marriage - but the law's current bias is to destroy it.

However, state legislatures are dominated by attorneys, especially on Judiciary Committees that would consider any reform of divorce law. Some of those legislators profit from divorce - and likely would oppose any Divorce Reform that would cut business.

Why should those who benefit personally from the law have the final voice on it?

Much of law is written by the special interests.  However, President-Elect Obama has a new important reason to trump self-serving "family law attorneys" - trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see.

Therefore, I propose that the Federal Government pass a law to withhold some federal aid to encourage each state to reform "No Fault Divorce."

When Welfare Reform was passed by Congress in 1996, the Federal Government was paying $16.5 billion as its share to support those on public assistance, with states matching federal funds, though only the wealthiest states matched federal funds on a 50-50 basis.

Governors persuaded Congress to convert the federal payment from a matching grant to a "block grant" that would remain unchanged, even if the number of people on welfare fell. Welfare Reform did reduce  rolls by more than 60%, a great success.  So the states are getting a $10 billion "Welfare Reform Surplus."

I urge Obama to ask Congress to withhold 10 percent of those funds, $1 billion, until each state gives an equal voice to both parents of minor children on a divorce proposed by either the father or mother. 

There is an interesting precedent for such an initiative.  In 1982 when Candy Lightener's daughter was killed by a drunk driver, she created Mothers Against Drunk Driving, MADD. Her proposal to reduce drunk driving was to raise the age at which liquor could be sold from 18 in many states, to 21.  She met with then Gov. Jerry Brown of California, who said he was sympathetic.  Yet nothing happened.

However, MADD persuaded Congress to amend the Federal Transportation Law to reduce it by 10% until state legislatures raised the drinking age to 21.  After the amendment was passed, every state promptly raised the age to 21.  No state lost a dollar of federal aid.

Similarly in 2000, MADD persuaded Congress to pass an amendment to define "drunk driving" as .08 Blood Alcohol Content (BAC).  Most states were at .1 BAC and five defined drunk driving as 1.5 BAC, which is falling down drunk.  Again, all states passed the reform.

Result: drunk driving deaths dropped from 30,600 to 17,600. 

If Congress passed a 10% cut of the Welfare Reform Surplus, and all states passed enabling legislation to give both parents a voice on divorce, how much would the federal deficit be reduced?  FRC's Pat Fagan estimates the figure at $40 to $50 billion. Compared to the estimated $1.2 trillion deficit projected for this year, that is a modest sum.

However, Fagan adds,  "It's a great long-term strategy to help the family as well as the taxpayer." .

A half million fewer children each year would experience a parental divorce.  That, in turn, would mean that fewer children would be expelled from school, become pregnant or incarcerated   Over a decade, 5 million more children would grow up in intact homes.

Surely, that's a goal worth working for.
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