In a futile attempt to equate the substance of Mitt Romney’s message on welfare reform with the vileness of the Obama super PAC accusation that Romney effectively killed a woman, the liberal elites have taken to claiming, “Well, the super PAC is only fair since Romney’s not telling the truth on welfare reform.”
First, let’s pause to consider the mentality of those who would cast a reasonable debate on policy grounds (i.e., the impact of welfare work requirement waivers) with a personal, depraved accusation of murder. And you wonder why the White House tries the stuff it does? It’s convinced of its own virtue, so anything goes. As Quin Hillyer aptly put it, “That the establishment media is a hypocritical institution is by now beyond dispute. The level of hypocrisy, though, keeps growing — and it encourages the Left to be ever more brazen in its soul-less assassinations of character and of human decency itself.”
Now to the merits. As to the illegality of the unilateral move on welfare’s work requirement, the left hardly bothers to engage (and really doesn’t much care about constitutional niceties as we saw with liberals’ indifference to cutting Congress out of immigration law modification). But on the right several commentators have made the solid case. Andrew Grossman of the Heritage Foundation is among those who find:
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 stands as perhaps the most important entitlement reform in the nation’s history, chiefly because of its core requirement that able-bodied parents eligible for welfare assistance work, search for work, or train to work. Its centerpiece (and the most controversial provision at the time of its passage) is Section 407, “Mandatory Work Requirements,” which sets out an absolute requirement that state welfare programs achieve specific work-participation rates or forfeit federal funding.
Even after President Bill Clinton twice vetoed welfare reform legislation, Congress refused to budge on the core requirement of Section 407, insisting on strong work incentives to discourage abuses and to help lift recipients off of welfare and out of poverty. And it worked: Employment surged, caseloads dropped, and child poverty plummeted.
Under the guise of providing states greater “flexibility” in operating their welfare programs, the Obama Administration now claims the authority to weaken or waive the work requirements that are at the heart of welfare reform. In particular, it argues that Section 1115, which provides waiver authority for states to establish demonstration projects, authorizes it to approve state programs that “test approaches and methods other than those set forth in section 407,” including different “definitions of work activities and engagement.” In this way, states could evade Section 407’s work-participation requirement without sacrificing federal funding.
But the Obama Administration’s claim that it may weaken or waive work requirements is contrary to law. Section 407 establishes a stand-alone requirement for state welfare plans that brooks no exceptions, befitting its status as the core component of the 1996 reform. It is also absent from the list of requirements that may be waived under Section 1115. Indeed, to eliminate any possible ambiguity as to whether the work requirements could be waived immediately following passage of the 1996 reform, a separate provision specifically states that waivers “shall not affect the applicability of section .”
As to the impact of the waivers, the left argues that the Obama administration won’t give away waivers unless they’re effective (so work requirements will be watered down) or governors are too smart to ask for the waivers (will liberal ones agree or just the GOP governors?). The argument in essence says that the waiver doesn’t mean anything because it won’t be abused. The faith in a bureaucracy that was opposed to the work requirement to begin with to keep an eagle eye on waivers is risible.
Mickey Kaus has a must-read look at the spurious defenses by the left. It should be read in full, but this is especially noteworthy in his defense of the world “gut” to describe what the Obama administration has done to the welfare work requirement:
Congress . . . put a lot of effort into resisting efforts by governors (including GOP governors), bureaucrats, paleoliberals, and non-profit softies to water down the work requirements (by allowing, for example, extended “job search” or BS-type activities like self-esteem classes, and more generally by emphasizing what will help “place” existing recipients in “good” private jobs instead of deterring possible future recipients from making the choices that land them on welfare).
The authors of the law thought they’d restricted HHS’ authority to undermine the work requirements. Comes now HHS secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius to claim she has broad authority to dispense with all those requirements through waivers, subject only to her opinion as to what is “likely to assist in promoting the objectives” of the welfare law. TNR‘s Ed Kilgore loyally declares ,”The Obama administration has not changed the architecture of the 1996 welfare reform law at all.” But that’s wrong. The legal architecture of the work requirements has been altered dramatically. Old system: Congress writes the requirements, which are … requirements. New system: Sebelius does what she wants — but, hey, you can trust her!
The faux indignation by liberals over an ad they claim overstates (Oh, my heavens, in a presidential race, no less!) the damage done by Obama’s unilateral change is a rather transparent attempt to deflect criticism over the“Romney killed her” ad and the boneheaded decision to make the waivers available. (As Kaus points out, the requirement that the waiver requesters promise to cut welfare roles by 20 percent dissolves on closer inspection.) And frankly, if the governors say they don’t want the waivers, why doesn’t Health and Human Services back down and let the existing law operate as Congress intended?