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GOP sets plan to defend welfare law

House Republicans crafted a detailed strategy for selling the new welfare law to voters, including "Oprah-style" town meetings where former recipients share success stories, a copy of the plan showed last week.

The "member's guide to explaining the new welfare law" also suggested lawmakers hold press events with handicapped children who did not lose benefits under the law, which ended disability aid to 135,000 children with behavioral disorders.

Appearing with a child who still receives Supplemental Security Income illustrates that children with severe ailments will continue to get the help they need, according to a copy of the guide obtained by Reuters.

Republicans said they were forced to overhaul the SSI program because children were being coached to feign behavioral problems to qualify for benefits. The Social Security Administration did not find widespread abuse.

"Show your side of the story before your opponents strike first," the guide said. It warned that "disability advocates have stepped up their campaign to convince the nation that any reform of the SSI children's program is unfair and will gravely harm needy children."

Marty Ford of the Arc, which represents the mentally retarded, said the strategy "seems so cynical. Holding a news conference with children who didn't get kicked off begs the question: Who are the children who did get kicked off?"

Florida Republican Rep. Clay Shaw, who crafted the guide, said lawmakers simply needed good information to respond to growing public questions as the law took effect.

"There is going to be a lot of interest out there. They (lawmakers) are getting more and more stories of people who might fall through the cracks," Shaw said.

He denied there was anything defensive about the document, calling it a "question of staying on the offense."

The 17-page guide, sent to all House Republicans earlier this month, recommends that lawmakers try to locate someone in their district who had received food stamps but now works year-round due to tough new work rules in the measure.