Human Events Blog

Obama wipes out welfare reform

The welfare reforms of 1996, which President Bill Clinton was forced to sign as a matter of political survival, are one of the great success stories of modern legislation.  All of the hysterical predictions of doom leveled by opponents of the reforms were proven false.  Nearly 3 million families were weaned from welfare dependency by the new work requirements.  Almost uniquely among “anti-poverty” measures, these reforms actually reduced poverty.

Of course, Barack Obama couldn’t let such a huge success stand.

On Thursday, Obama once again abused executive power to tear the heart out of welfare reform, eliminating the work requirements with the stroke of a pen by his Department of Health and Human Services.  It’s transparently illegal – as the Heritage Foundation explains, HHS Secretary Kathleen “Death Spiral” Sebelius is invoking a section of the law that gives her the power to issue waivers to specific requirements, but the wok provisions she’s striking down are not listed among the items she has authority to waive.

This is par for the course for the power-hungry architects of ObamaCare, who never met a legal restriction they couldn’t waterboard until it told them everything they wanted to hear.  This is nothing less than the naked usurpation of legislative power by the executive – one more unpleasant “transformation” of American government away from a representative republic of limited powers.

One aspect of that republican system is the importance of public debate by legislators, and their accountability to voters.  Nobody elected Barack Obama to destroy successful welfare reforms.  He did it quietly, in the dead of night, without any concern for the opinion of the American people.

Once again, we are dared to defend the wisdom of America’s founders by an arrogant unitary executive.  Obama called his recent bus tour “Betting on America,” but the only thing he’s betting on is our supine refusal to protect what he wants to take.

Update: Mitt Romney released a statement critical of Obama’s move: “President Obama now wants to strip the established work requirements from welfare.  The success of bipartisan welfare reform, passed under President Clinton, has rested on the obligation of work.  The president’s action is completely misdirected.  Work is a dignified endeavor, and the linkage of work and welfare is essential to prevent welfare from becoming a way of life.

Update: Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter to HHS Secretary Sebelius, questioning her authority to make these changes to the welfare program.  “We do not believe this guidance is supported by either [the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program] or other relevant titles of the Social Security Act,” Camp and Hatch wrote.

The letter discusses the relevant legislation in considerable detail.  “Simply put,” it concludes, “if Congress had intended to allow waivers of TANF work requirements, it would have said so in the statute.”  A “detailed explanation” of HHS’ reasoning to the contrary is requested, no later than close of business on Monday, July 16.

Rep. Camp, who was one of the authors of the 1996 welfare reform law, said in a statement,  “Welfare reform provided States a simple deal: fixed Federal funding and enormous flexibility in exchange for a requirement that they engage welfare recipients in work and related activities.  In response, States helped record numbers of low-income parents go to work, earnings soared, and dependence on welfare and poverty plunged by record levels.  Now 16 years later, the Obama Administration is proposing to let States effectively eliminate a key feature of that reform – the TANF work requirement.  This is a brazen and unwarranted unraveling of welfare reform.  This ends welfare reform as we know it.”  (Emphasis mine.)

 

 

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