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Political risk looms over Republicans' welfare tinkering

From Reuters - January 12, 2018

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Political danger signs are flashing, but conservatives in Washington are pushing forward with proposals to change Americas social safety net, an agenda even fellow Republican President Donald Trump recently shied away from.

Fresh from a tax overhaul victory and keen to act while they retain control of Congress, Republicans are seeking tougher work and job training requirements for those helped by assistance programs such as Medicaid and food stamps.

Kentucky on Friday became the first U.S. state to get approval from Washington to impose work requirements on recipients of Medicaid, a government program that provides health coverage to millions of Americans, primarily the poor, children, pregnant women, elderly adults and disabled people.

The approval came a day after the Trump administration said states could move toward putting work or job training conditions on Medicaid, which has never had such conditions attached.

Democrats and health advocacy groups said such changes would make healthcare less accessible to vulnerable Americans.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal group, said it plans to file a legal challenge against the administration.

Changes like Kentuckys appeal to conservative Republican voters, although more broadly, Americans strong views and personal stakes in U.S. social programs have long been seen as political dynamite - especially in election years.

That is fraught with danger, political danger, said John Feehery, a Republican strategist who served as spokesman to former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

After the deep tax cuts for corporations that Republicans pushed through Congress in December, critics will say the party wants to pay for it by slashing benefits to poor people. They just dont need that right now, Feehery said.

In November, Republicans must defend their Senate and House majorities in nationwide midterm congressional elections, which historically produce big gains for the opposition in the first term of a new presidency.

Trump said on Saturday after a meeting with Republican leaders that any welfare legislation should be bipartisan or wait until later in 2018 after other priorities such as infrastructure and immigration are addressed.

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