Back to previous page


Rick Santorum and welfare reform (Fact Checker biography)

By ,

Chris Keane, Reuters

“I wrote the welfare reform bill in the Contract with America. I was the ranking member on that subcommittee. And when I came to the Senate, through a quirk, I ended up managing the bill on the floor of the United States Senate and working with President Clinton and getting a bill signed after he vetoed it twice to end welfare. We bloc-granted the program, got rid of the federal entitlement -- the only one in the history of the country that’s ever been done. And I was the principal author of it in the United States Senate, managed the bill on the floor.”

-- Rick Santorum, remarks during the GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire, Jan. 4, 2012

Santorum’s debate comments echo a claim from a campaign ad that portrays him as a “full-spectrum conservative” who has the best chance to beat President Obama in the general election. Our colleagues at PolitiFact already covered this issue, calling the former Pennsylvania lawmaker’s assertion about welfare reform “Half True.” We have a different take.

Santorum isn’t the only Republican candidate to tout the 1996 welfare-reform act as one of his own accomplishments. Fellow presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich talks up his own involvement, having pushed hard for the overhaul while serving as speaker of the House after the 1994 Republican Revolution.

We examined the comments Gingrich made on welfare and Medicare reform, determining that he deserved one Pinocchio for exaggerating the impact of those measures. Santorum’s statement is different because he isn’t talking about impacts. He’s bragging about his role in the reform effort. We looked back at how the welfare overhaul became law to determine whether Santorum was involved in pushing the legislation as much as he claims.

The Facts

Santorum is one of many 1990s politicians who pushed for welfare reform, and not all of them were Republicans. In fact, President Bill Clinton vowed during his first run for office to “end welfare as we know it,” among other promises, such as resurrecting the economy.

The reform effort sputtered for years after Clinton entered the White House, as lawmakers argued over various proposals and the president vetoed the first two welfare bills that hit his desk. Clinton eventually signed a reform measure about three months before a lopsided 1996 election gave him a second term.

The final bill included many of the same elements of the vetoed measures, prompting some Republicans to describe the signing as a political move by the president.

“There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the bill he talked about today and the one he vetoed a few months back,” said former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), who earned the GOP presidential nomination that year. “The only difference is it’s 97 days before the election.”

The final legislation placed limits on the amount of time welfare recipients could collect benefits, required them to begin working within two years, created stricter conditions for food stamp eligibility and reduced assistance for legal immigrants. Congress later restored some of the immigrant benefits.

So, who crafted the successful measure?

Our research shows that Santorum was a major contributor in drafting at least the vetoed legislation. He started hammering out the details of a plan to overhaul welfare entitlements while serving as ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee in the early ’90s.

Numerous news accounts make note of this, including a Washington Post article from 1993 that said when Santorum was serving in the House, he acted as “co-chairman of the House Republican task force that drafted a GOP welfare reform bill.”

Dole charged Santorum with running the Senate floor debate over the final reform measure when the candidate was just a freshman senator. The appointment was unusual for a newcomer to the upper chamber of Congress.

Ron Haskins, a former Republican staffer who helped draft the bill and later wrote a book about it, told the conservative magazine National Review this year that “this is completely unheard of, and the reason [Dole] did it is Santorum is really, really smart.”

PolitiFact quoted Haskins as saying, “[Santorum] deserves as much credit for welfare reform as anyone with the possible exceptions of Clay Shaw [the former Republican congressman who introduced the final legislation] and Bill Clinton. He wrote the bill that was part of the Contract with America, which set the pattern for all subsequent Republican welfare-reform bills.”

The Pinocchio Test

PolitiFact called Santorum’s comments “Half True,” noting that the candidate didn’t act alone in reforming welfare during that time. This suggests he exaggerated his influence in the welfare changes.

We recognize Santorum didn’t single-handedly overhaul the welfare system, but neither does he appear to be claiming such an accomplishment. Most people know that’s not the way the system works. Instead, Santorum carefully described how he played a major role in the reform effort, and the evidence clearly shows he is right.

Santorum’s remarks about how he helped change the nation’s welfare system earns our prized Geppetto Checkmark.

Geppetto Checkmark

(About our rating scale)

Check out our candidate Pinocchio Tracker

Follow The Fact Checker on Twitter and friend us on Facebook .

Track each presidential candidate's campaign ads .

WATCH SANTORUM’S AD ABOUT REFORMING WELFARE
<iframe width=”560” height=”315” src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/3fKXkAhAFts” frameborder=”0” allowfullscreen></iframe>

© The Washington Post Company