The Obama administration fires back on welfare

Kathleen Sebelius/Us Mission Geneva

The Washington Post has obtained the following letters, sent to House Ways and Means chair Dave Camp (pdf) and Senate Finance ranking member Orrin Hatch (pdf), respectively, by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. She includes a legal rationale for the administration's welfare waivers to states, reiterating that  "no plan that undercuts the goal of moving people from welfare to work will be considered or approved." The two letters are largely similar, so here is the one addressed to Hatch:

Sen Hatch TANF 7 18

In the letter's most pointed passage, Sebelius notes that in 2005, a group of 29 Republican governors sent Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist a letter arguing for state welfare waivers more expansive than those being issued by the Obama administration. The letter (pdf) is signed many party notables, such as Mitch Daniels, Rick Perry, Tim Pawlenty, Haley Barbour, Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush and, of course, Mitt Romney, who just the other day declared that the new waivers will "fundamentally undermine" welfare reform.

He's not the only one to have reversed course. Camp and Hatch both supported welfare waivers in the past, Camp voting in committee for a bill expanding welfare waivers in 2005 and Hatch voting for a resolution expressing support for waivers in 1996. Tommy Thompson, now a Senate candidate in Wisconsin, wrote an op-ed condemning the Obama administration's waivers despite having proposed state welfare waivers while serving as George W. Bush's HHS secretary in 2003.

It makes sense for Republicans to support waivers. It was governors in the 1980s - and in particular (pdf) Thompson, who served for 14 years as governor of Wisconsin - whose initial experiments with waiver-based welfare reforms paved the way to the federal reform law in 1996. As Ezra could tell you, this is hardly the first time a previously widely held Republican policy position has become anathema almost overnight, but it's a stark change nonetheless.

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