(CNN) – Republican presidential front-runner Newt Gingrich unveiled his plan to reform what he calls the "welfare empire" and make major overhauls to social programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
"There are 185 federal programs that are income-related, that is, that are you know are supposedly helping the poor," Gingrich said St. Anselm College in Manchester. "185. Those programs collectively spend so much money that if you just gave it to the poor, there would be no poor left in America."
Programming note: GOP presidential candidates face off at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, November 22, in the CNN Republican National Security Debate in Washington, D.C.
The former House Speaker has surged to the top of the GOP race in recent months. A new CNN/ORC International Poll released Monday shows him at the top with 24% of support among likely Republican voters, with Romney following behind at 20%. The margin is within the sampling error.
In his so-called "Growth and Innovation" plan, Gingrich would give Americans the option to invest in personal savings accounts, citing similar models used in Galveston, Texas and Chile as examples.
Gingrich said the current system gives politicians too much power over people's money, arguing his idea of private accounts would take out the middleman and yield higher returns.
"Maybe it's not that Social Security is out of money, the politicians are out of ideas," he said.
Gingrich would also shift all federal-means tested welfare programs back to the states, which he said would "help millions move from dependency to prosperity while saving taxpayer[s] trillions."
As for Medicare, Gingrich wants to propose new private insurance options with a regular "premium support" payment.
"Unleashing competition will dramatically increase options for American seniors, while also lowering costs," he said.
– CNN Political Producer Rachel Streitfeld contributed to this report.