Republican Rep. Allen West decried government "handouts" as the worst form of modern "slavery" during an impassioned floor speech Wednesday evening.
The freshman Florida congressman, who is black, made the remarks in commemoration of Black History Month. He used his floor speech to detail the Republican Party's role throughout American history in promoting equal rights and freedom for black Americans.
He said that commitment did not end after Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
"Republicans have been on the frontlines of the fight for equal rights and individual manifest destiny since our party's founding under Lincoln," he said.
In modern times, West said, this has meant fighting to prevent black Americans "from being trapped in a permanent underclass through dependence on government handouts." He said that fight continues despite the welfare reform of the 1990s.
West said the GOP "firmly believes" in the safety net. "We reject the idea of the safety net becoming a hammock," he added.
"For this reason, the Republican value of minimizing government dependence is particularly beneficial to the poorest among us. Conversely, the Democratic appetite for ever-increasing redistributionary handouts is in fact the most insidious form of slavery remaining in the world today, and it does not promote economic freedom," West said.
The topic of whether government benefits harm black communities has been a popular, if controversial, one on the Republican presidential campaign trail. Newt Gingrich in January drew criticism from the NAACP for saying black communities should "demand" paychecks instead of food stamps.
According to federal government statistics for 2010, the bulk of food stamps recipients are not black. Though race was not reported for a fifth of recipients, federal data for the rest showed 34 percent were white and 22 percent were black.
West on Wednesday lamented attempts to paint the GOP as the party of the "white upper class," claiming Republicans fight for "underprivileged communities" by trying to minimize government dependency.
"What Republicans have long understood is that poor communities are best served when they're empowered to care for themselves. The more they come to rely on government checks, the less they learn to rely on their own ability and ingenuity," West said.