Moynihan as Presidential Counsellor
Nixon Legacy Form
American Enterprise Institute
Washington, DC
November 10, 2010

Hosted by the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., the 10th Richard Nixon Legacy Forum discusses the Nixon-era accomplishments of one of the most admired statesmen of the past half-century, Pat Moynihan.

The panel consisted of Steve Hess, Chris DeMuth, Checker Finn, and John Price, all former members of Moynihan’s White House staff. Steve Weisman, author of ‘Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary,’ moderated this forum on Moynihan’s relationship with President Nixon and the progressive and innovative domestic policy initiatives that they developed together.

Legacy Forum Transcript (to be linked later)

Photo May 6, 1969 Oval Office Nixon Moynihan Ehrlichman 37-whpo-0972-05a-i-2020-ec


As president, Richard Nixon sought a genuine exchange of ideas among his close advisers as a basis for developing domestic policy.

Prior to the creation of the Domestic Council in 1970, President Nixon was advised on domestic issues primarily by two men: Arthur Burns and Dr. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Each man proposed their ideas from different political perspectives —Burns a committed conservative, Moynihan a longtime liberal— while both had the title Counsellor to the President. 

Moynihan served as Assistant to the President on Urban Affairs from January 1969 to December 1970. He was the administration’s leading proponent to reform of America’s welfare system through the development and adoption of the Family Assistance Plan, which included significant reforms to the Aid to Assist Families with Dependent Children Plan. These reforms centered around qualifications to receive government welfare benefits, namely limiting applicants who were relatives in the same household, the creation of a work training program for applications, and requiring able-bodied applicants to attempt to attain work as a requirement of welfare assistance. Benefits under the plan would be reduced at a gradual rate as work related income rose, but at a rate that incentivized working. The Family Assistance Plan would also create a guaranteed minimum household income through a negative income tax.

Moynihan was also an advocate for the idea of revenue-sharing to replace the Model Cities plan. Moynihan recognized that in the fight against poverty, providing pathways back into the workforce was critical, while a one-size-fits-all approach to fighting poverty was not as effective. Under the revenue-sharing plan, states were granted local controls as to how federal funds could be spent in the fight against poverty. Moynihan, like President Nixon, recognized that for anti-poverty measures to be effective, the dignity of the recipient must be protected. Employment and a stable family environment were both seen as key to fighting muti-generational poverty. 

In order to adopt these policies, Nixon and Moynihan needed to work across political aisles. This included reaching out to various members of Congress by phone, and meeting with Senate leadership in person, in the Oval Office, to secure sufficient support for passage. The polling conducted related to public opinion of the Family Assistance Plan was positive, but reservations persisted in the Senate. While FAP failed to pass the U.S. Congress, the Nixon administration’s welfare reform plan served as the model for that which President Clinton proposed, and secured congressional approval of, in 1996. 

Moynihan departed the Nixon administration in December 1970 to resume his career at Harvard but his influence continued, shaping the administration’s forward-thinking, bipartisan approach to domestic policy for years to come. He was appointed by President Nixon as U.S. Ambassador to India in 1973; by President Ford as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in 1975; and he was elected U.S. Senator from New York in 1977, served four terms and was succeeded by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2001. 

Many of Moynihan’s farsighted, bipartisan ideas are still relevant today and time has shown these ideas to be worthy of further attention and review.

Photo Moynihan at his desk May 7, 1970 37-whpo-3476-04-i-2020-rp

Support Documents for Further Study

1 July 1969 Price memo to Moynihan on meeting with Council on Urban Affairs 

11 August 1969 Perrin memo on Office of Economic Opportunity Reorganization

16 October 1969 Klebanoff memo to Moynihan on immigration data

29 October 1969 Price memo to Moynihan Notes from Meeting with the President

24 November 1969 Miller memo for Moynihan on recommendations on the urban and racial crisis

9 December 1969 Price memo to the Vice President on the “Nixon ethos” and Moynihan’s thoughts

9 January 1970 Ehrlichman to Moynihan on name of Family Assistance Plan

29 January 1970 Moynihan memo to Wilson on reply to the Ways and Means Committee related to the Family Assistance Plan

2 February 1970 Moynihan memo on Southern concerns related to federal involvement in schools

26 February 1970 Moynihan memo to Cole on suggestions for meeting on public service

5 March 1970 Moynihan memo on comments on Buchanan article of 30 January 1970

10 March 1970 Moynihan memo to Ehrlichman on Population Commission Bill 

28 April 1970 Moynihan memo to Timmons on proposed amendments to the Family Assistance Plan

8 June 1970 Moynihan memo to Editor of the New York Times on Family Assistance Program

1 July 1970 Moynihan remarks to the Urban Coalition Action Council

7 July 1970 Moynihan letter to the editor of the New Republic related to comments against the Family Assistance Plan

9 July 1970 Webster memo to Moynihan on Welfare Reform and Family Assistance Program

10 July 1970 Moynihan memo to RN on assessment of the situation regarding the Family Assistance Plan in the Senate Finance Committee 

15 July 1970 Webster memo to Moynihan on pending RN meeting with the Finance Committee 

17 July 1970 Moynihan memo to Richardson on Family Assistance hearings

22 July 1970 Moynihan memo to Ehrlichman on Regional Planning Commission

23 July 1970 Lindow memo to Moynihan on American Retail Federation’s support for the Family Assistance Plan

28 July 1970 Moynihan memo to Brewer on details related to Family Assistance Plan and impact on states

5 August 1970 Memo to Moynihan on Impact of Family Assistance Act

7 August 1970 Finn memo to Moynihan on Heard report on education

13 August 1970 Moynihan memo to Ehrlichman on International Environmental Activities

28 August 1970 Moynihan address to the National Legislative Conference on the Family Assistance Plan

2 September 1970 Moynihan memo on talks with Mansfield related to the Family Assistance Plan in the Senate

15 September 1970 Moynihan memo on impact of the Family Assistance Plan on the states

1 December 1970 Moynihan memo to Shultz on breaking the deadlock on the Family Assistance Plan 

3 December 1970 Moynihan memo to RN on developments related to the Family Assistance Plan in the Senate