CHICAGO – President Bush promoted welfare-to-work proposals that he said will allow recipients to get off the public rolls Monday, the same day he was helping to raise $2.2 million for Illinois gubernatorial candidate Jim Ryan, who if elected could help Bush's own campaign in 2004.
"We can continue to make America a better place by helping people find work," Bush told nearly 2,000 people at a UPS distribution center that has hired many former welfare recipients. "A job is such an important part of a person's dignity, a person's future."
With the historic 1996 welfare reform bill set to expire this year, the president has been traveling the Midwest touting ideas that he would like to see Congress incorporate into a new bill.
They include increasing the percentage of state welfare recipients who work full time while they receive welfare benefits. The program would also allow states to tailor their programs to recipients' needs by allowing more vocational education.
"Over the next five years, states working with local government should place 70 percent of people on wefare. It's not only important for society but it's important for the people," he said.
States long have been able to request permission to test new ideas in federally funded, state-run programs. It was a series of such waivers to the welfare program that helped generate support for sweeping changes enacted in 1996, and set for renewal this year.
The administration's proposal would allow a "superwaiver," a single application for states to submit to the federal government to integrate services, dollars and requirements, and scuttling whatever rules stand in the way.
Critics contend the plan could undo important federal protections, result in less total spending on the poor and transfer vast power away from Congress.
The president addressed his plan before attending a fund-raiser for Ryan, who is seeking the gubernatorial seat against Democratic Rep. Rod Blagojevich. By splitting his time, the president also was able to split the trip's cost between taxpayers and the Republican party.
The $2.2 million the president is expected to raise from individual donors and corporations could help Ryan keep the governor's seat in Republican hands and boost Bush's chances in 2004 for the 21 electoral votes that Illinois will provide. Democratic candidate Al Gore won Illinois' 22 electoral votes in the 2000 election that took place before redistrcting.
Ryan also chose to maximize Bush's appearance by hiring a camera crew to film a campaign commercial during Bush's speech, in which he praised Ryan as "this good, honorable man."
"He has got a record of accomplishment as the attorney general," Bush said, ticking off Ryan's stands on law enforcement and education. "He's willing to take on the status quo when he sees children in schools that will not teach."
It was Bush's 25th fund-raiser of the year.
Fox News' James Rosen and the Associated Press contributed to this report.