President Obama is the chief executive, obligated by the Constitution to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Obama, however, seems to have — by executive order — altered that to read “take Care that the Laws [which he likes or wished Congress had passed] be faithfully executed. The list of laws he won’t enforce or is unilaterally amending is getting long: Defense of Marriage Act, immigration laws, voting laws, and anti-terror laws. He won’t even enforce all the provisions of his signature legislation as we’ve seen in the bushels-full of Obamacare waivers. The latest and most inexplicable gambit is his decision to undo bipartisan welfare reform.
ABC News explained: “After the Obama administration announced this week that it is opening up waivers to states from the work requirements contained in welfare reform, Republicans began to speak out against the move, complaining it completely undercuts the law. . . . Congressional Republicans decried the move as ‘a blatant violation of the law’ and contend the waivers will actually cause harm to the impoverished Americans because beneficiaries will come to rely on the handout with little motivation to seek employment.”
The outrage is bipartisan. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) released a furious statement :
By gutting the work requirements in President Clinton’s signature welfare reform law, President Obama is admitting his economic policies have failed.
“While President Clinton worked with Congress in a bipartisan way on welfare reform and economic opportunity, President Obama has routinely ignored Republican proposals, rejected House-passed jobs bills, and imposed an agenda that’s helped keep the unemployment rate above eight percent for 41 months. Instead of working with Republicans to boost job creation, the president is simply disregarding the requirement that welfare recipients find work.
“Welfare reform was an historic, bipartisan success – this move by the Obama administration is a partisan disgrace.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, was likewise incensed, sending a letter together with Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), head of the House Ways and Means Committee, to the Health and Human Services Department demanding an explanation. Hatch also put out a statement that read in part:
The 1996 welfare reform bill, otherwise known as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), ended welfare as an entitlement and empowered states with the authority to create unique and robust welfare to work programs. A central feature of devolution of federal authority back to the states was a vigorous work requirement for states, including a specific set of activities that qualified as “work.”
Over the years, as states used the reduction in the welfare caseload to mitigate compliance with the 1996 TANF work requirement, the focus on vital welfare to work initiatives diminished.
In 2005, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office reported that several states listed as part of their definition of a “federal work activity” under TANF the following:
1. Bed rest
2. Personal care activities
6. Motivational reading
7. Smoking cessation
8. Weight loss promotion
9. Participating in parent teacher meetings
10. Helping a friend or relative with household tasks and errands. . . .
With unemployment remaining stuck over 8 percent, most Americans would not consider bed rest, smoking cessation classes and journaling as “work.”
You can’t make this stuff up.
Pro-reform Democrats are also stunned and dismayed. Mickey Kaus writes, objecting to dilution of the work requirements:
A great deal of effort was put into defining what qualified as work, and making sure that work actually meant work and not the various BS activities (including BS training activities) the welfare bureaucracies often preferred to substitute for work. . . . But of course the work requirements were part of what sent that general ‘signal.’ . . .
To the extent the administration’s action erodes the actual and perceived toughness of the work requirements, which it does, it sends the opposite and wrong signal.
Like Kaus, I am at a loss to explain this maneuver on political grounds. (“Requiring that welfare recipients work is a political winner — proven, again and again. . . . And in 2008, Barack Obama didn’t dare suggest that he wanted to do what he has done today. Obama’s given his opponents a huge opportunity to raise the ‘welfare’ issue, to associate him with the unpopular idea of subsidizing women who have children they can’t support, usually out of wedlock — even giving them free community college training that hardworking people who don’t go on welfare can’t get!” )
Maybe Obama is frantically trying to rev up his base, although you have to think jeopardizing the support of working voters for the prospect of gaining votes from the habitually unemployed isn’t smart. Maybe this is a case of the left hand not knowing what the far left hand is doing. In any event, it’s a blunder. How soon do you think Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will be forcing votes to overturn the work waivers?
Obama's imperious use of executive orders and refusal to enforce the laws of the land fairly and completely is a constitutional disgrace. But his policy judgment is so off-kilter that it also demonstrates Obama’s faulty approach to immigration, welfare, administration of justice, etc. The policy implications are far more politically damaging and reinforce conservatives’ fears that a second Obama term would witness a lurch to the left.