"YOU CAN draft that bill in a morning" - so spoke Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan the other day, by way of chiding the Department of Health, Education and Welfare for what he regards as its unconscionable delay in getting a welfare-reform program together. If Sen. Moynihan were not himself something of a personage in this field, in addition to being chairman of the Senate Finance Committee subcommittee that will deal with the administration's welfare-reform effort when it is ready, this little nit of hyperbole might not matter. But the senator does mater - and so, therefore, do his remarks.
The delay that is troubling Sen. Moynihan boils down to this: Evidently HEW will not propose a full-fledged welfare-reform program to the President by May 1, and evidently the President, in turn, will not propose legislation to the Hill immediately thereafter. Rather, it is going to be a matter of enunciating some principles and purposes, of choosing among various methods of fulfilling them and of drafting legislation that embodies the result for submission to Congress this summer.
Is that so terrible? Mr. Moynihan thinks it is. But we would remind him of a few things he surely already knows. As a veteran of the ultimately disappointing welfare-reform experience in the Nixon years, the senator must recall that the original Nixon effort was not ready until the late summer of Mr. Nixon's first year, and that an enormous amount of internal argument and bargaining had to go into it. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, Mr. Moynihan must also know that the likelihood of Chairman Russell Long's getting around to any proposed welfare reform this summer is exceedingly small and that his own Senate Majority Leader, Robert Byrd, has said "welfare reform will simply have to wait." Mr. Moynihan accused HEW of something "beginning to verge on nonfeasance" because of its delay in producing a welfare-reform proposal. Does he also regard Sen. Byrd, who wishes to put the whole thing over for this entire session of Congress, as being guilty of nonfeasance?
The senator can - and did - remind his listerners of certain Carter campaign promises concerning welfare reform as well as the Democratic platform plank on the subject. These all contain firm commitments to achieve certain results - but nowhere do they say how these results can be achieved simultaneously or at a bearable cost to the taxpayer or without the layering on of new bureaucracies or the creation of new social inequities. And with due respect to the welfare-reform proposals of the Nixon years - which we supported with a passion second only to that of Mr. Moynihan - we think, in retrospect, that that legislation slid over some of the practical difficulties that would have ensued had it been passed. Finally, there is the fact that much has changed since that effort was made several years ago. The burgeoning of the food-stamp program program, the growth of other welfare programs, a change in the character of recipients coming onto the rolls - these are but a few of the considerations that need to be taken into account in fashioning a sound welfare proposal, along with the enormous complexity of creating a proposal whose related job program is not simply an empty pledge, a legislative farce.
All of which is another way of saying that we survey the same evidence Mr. Moynihan surveys and come out at a different place. We think the administration's cautious pace on welfare reform is a sign of its seriousness - not of its lack of concern.