WASHINGTON — Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) marched into Washington this week to trumpet his state's welfare reform programs and bolster his bid to share the Republican presidential ticket with Bob Dole.
Last week, President Clinton opened a political window for Governor Thompson by praising his welfare plan. In a bid to force the president's hand, Thompson came to a Monitor breakfast brandishing a thick brown accordion file containing his latest and most ambitious welfare reforms - which cannot be implimented without Clinton's signature.
The plan would end federal guarantees of cash assistance in favor of a broad, state-controled work-for-welfare program.
Thompson's political stock has risen in recent months, in large part because of his efforts on the welfare front. His name has been bandied about by Republicans as a possible running mate for presumed GOP nominee Dole, who needs to score well in Midwestern states to seal a victory in November.
The initial results of Thompson's 10-year welfare experiment seem impressive. He claims that in that time, Wisconsin's welfare caseload has declined by 39 percent and the state has saved $1 billion in social services. Yet critics, and Thompson himself, note that his welfare experiment has required substantial investments in medical care for children, day care, job training, and transportation.
"You have to spend more money up front to change the welfare system from one of dependence to independence," Thompson says, making a point that he acknowledges is often lost on his Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill. He adds that he is willing to accept federal targets, and even less money, if states are given the flexibility to design their own plans.
On other fronts, Thompson sounded like a Republican ticketmate already, hammering away at Clinton's "vacillations" on issues, and proclaiming his desire for a more moderate stance on abortion in the GOP platform.