Republican lawmakers are moving to block the Obama administration from making changes to the nation’s welfare laws, embracing an issue that is gaining traction on the campaign trail for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, unveiled resolutions Monday that express disapproval with a decision by the Department of Health and Human Services to allow states to obtain waivers to make changes to welfare work requirements. If passed, the resolutions would block the Obama administration from granting such waivers.
The issue has been simmering on the campaign trail since HHS announced in July that it was encouraging “states to consider new, more effective ways to meet the goals”of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which established work requirements and time-limited benefits for welfare recipients. As part of the change, the secretary of health and human services plans to consider issuing waivers to states concerning worker participation targets.
Within days of the HHS announcement, the Romney campaign began airing television ads accusing President Obama of rolling back a key piece of the 1996 bipartisan Welfare Reform Act. The Obama campaign defended the policy change by saying that it would grant greater flexibility to state governments to make long-requested changes to the program.
Former president Bill Clinton also defended Obama by calling the Romney ad “not true” and noting that the change was made at the request of Republican governors in Utah and Nevada.
(The Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler reviewed this issue last month and his assessment is a must-read. Most importantly, Kessler notes that Romney’s charge that Obama has already taken action to “drop work requirements” is incorrect because no waiver has yet been issued.)
Hatch, Camp and other GOP lawmakers are especially upset that HHS made the rule change without consulting Congress. The Government Accountability Office last week ruled that the administration needed to seek congressional approval before making the policy change, prompting Hatch and Camp to introduce their resolutions.
“With the stroke of a pen, the Obama Administration single-handedly undermined one of the central tenets of bipartisan welfare reform, that work is the best path to self-sufficiency,” Hatch said. “Given GAO’s findings, it’s an indisputable fact that this administration should have submitted its unilateral changes to Congress. The way forward is to put a stop to this unprecedented power play, as this resolution does, and start over on a robust reform and reexamination of this program.”
Camp agreed, calling it “unfortunate, but not surprising” that the Obama administration hasn’t withdrawn its rule change.
“This resolution will restore these requirements that have led to more work, higher earnings, less welfare dependence and fewer impoverished Americans,” Camp said. “As the economy continues to struggle under the president’s policies, we must not make things worse by undoing a program that has been essential in moving individuals from welfare to work.”
With the House and Senate working on a tight voting schedules, it is unclear whether either chamber might vote on the resolutions before Election Day.
Democrats blasted the proposed GOP resolutions as based on lies.
“Nearly every conceivable independent fact-checker has debunked the Republicans’ claims,” Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “This resolution wastes precious legislative time when we should be working together to provide solutions for the real problems confronting American families, not fabricated ones.”
Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee, also noted that several state governors had requested the policy change. “Republicans are using a totally discredited claim to manipulate a stereotype about welfare calling into question their underlying motivation,” Levin said.
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