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January 28, 2009
Column #1,431

How To Cut Government Deficit: Reduce Demand
By Mike McManus

      Every House Republican voted against Obama's $819 billion bailout.  But they failed to suggest persuasive ways to reduce its costs. Here's a suggestion for Senate Republicans that might be persuasive with Democrats.

      The primary way to cut federal costs is to reduce the number of recipients of welfare, Food Stamps, Medicaid, etc.  How? 

      A major engine of demand for federal programs is divorce. More than a million couples divorce annually, shattering the lives of one million children.  A woman who is married has a one percent chance of being poor, but 24% of divorced women fall into poverty. Divorced families do not boost the economy. They don't buy cars, take vacations or consume as much as intact 'families.

       Reducing the divorce rate would stimulate the economy while cutting government costs.

     Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation estimates that half of federal antipoverty costs come from divorce. (The rest is caused by unwed parenting.)  Heritage's report, "Fiscal Analysis -- Single Parent Families" - estimates the cost of single mothers and children is huge -- $230 billion. .

      The problem is that No Fault Divorce laws in 49 states allow one spouse to declare the marriage is "irretrievably broken." However, in four out of five cases, the other spouse disagrees, arguing the marriage IS salvageable. Nevertheless, No Fault forces the divorce every time.

       No Fault destroys America's most important institution, the family. And it is a drag on the economy. Only lawyers benefit.

      The first No Fault Divorce law was signed by then Gov. Ronald Reason of California in 1969. Ironically, he got a divorce he did not want from Jane Wyman. Michael Reagan, their son, wrote in Twice Adopted, "Divorce is where two adults take everything that matters to a child - the child's home, family, security, and sense of being loved and protected - and they smash it all up, leave it in ruins on the floor, then walk out an leave the child to clean up the mess." 

       Here's a simple solution.  If the couple has minor children, both the mother and father would be required to give written consent to the divorce, unless there is solid evidence of major fault, such as persistent infidelity or physical violence.

Divorce Attorney John Crouch, Director of Americans for Divorce Reform, favors a Modified No Fault Law requiring Mutual Consent of parents of young children. Why?: "A large proportion of divorces would be avoided altogether, and most of the rest would be settled out of court. Divorces would be fairer to both parties with less legal fees.  I believe it could reduce divorce rates as much as 50 percent. Changing the rules about ending a marriage would prevent a lot of marriages from breaking down in the first place. They would not only influence the decision to divorce, but the behavior and choices that lead to divorce."

       Since divorce is the cause of half of all single mothers with children who are in poverty, the cost to American taxpayers is $115 billion.  About three-quarters of that cost is federal, $88 billion.  If the divorce rate could be cut in half, the Federal Government would save about $44 billion.  Equally important, a half million kids a year would not experience a parental divorce.  That alone would save additional billions.  For example, children of divorce are three times as apt to have a child as an unwed teenager. That mother then goes on welfare, adding to future costs, not included in the $44 billion figure.

       Divorce laws are a state responsibility.  What can Washington do to encourage the states to enact a law giving both parents a voice on divorce? 

       When Welfare Reform was passed in 1996, Washington paid $16.5 billion for public assistance.  The governors asked that that be repackaged as a block grant to states, which would not be cut even if welfare rolls fell. Welfare rolls did plunge 60%.  However, the unchanged block grant now givies states a $10 billion "Welfare Reform Surplus."

       Senate Republicans could propose that $1 billion of that sum, 10% of each state's share, be withheld until each state passes laws to give both parents of young children a voice on divorce.  Odds are, every state will pass enabling legislation. 
       Evidence?  Mothers Against Drunk Driving persuaded the Congress to withhold 10% of federal highway funding to states in 1984 until they raised the age at which liquor could be sold to young people form 18 to 21. Every state passed the law and none lost federal funding. The result: drunk driving deaths fell from 30,600 to 17,600!  Law CAN promote morality!

       Therefore, the Congress should amend welfare to withhold 10% from each state's share, until it modifies No Fault with Mutual Consent for couples with young children. Some 500,000 kids a year won't experience the pain and abandonment Michael Reagan described. With one house instead of two, their parents will have money to spend more productively, stimulating the economy.

       For 60 years Gallup Polls reported that two-thirds of Americans believe it is too easy to get divorced. If Senate Republicans take a step to cut America's divorce rate in half, they will earn credit for strengthening the American family and earn the appreciation of American voters, who will not forget their leadership.

       Republicans do not have the votes to stop the Obama plan.  But they could insist on a way to cut costs by lowering the demand for government services. That will stimulate the economy while building a nation of stronger families.

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