WASHINGTON, D.C. | September 13, 2012
Today, the committee will consider H. J. Res. 118, a resolution disapproving President Obama’s effort to roll back the work requirement critical to the success of welfare reform.
President Clinton once said of welfare, “From now on, our nation’s answer to this great challenge will no longer be a never-ending cycle of welfare, it will be the dignity, the power, and the ethic of work.” Those words were spoken on August 22, 1996, just moments before President Clinton signed a bipartisan welfare reform bill into law.
Bill Clinton vowed to “end welfare as we know it,” and a Republican Congress helped him stay true to his word. Both parties recognized the urgent need to replace welfare policies that for decades had failed needy families. Under the old system, caseloads rose to five million households and 65 percent of families were dependent on welfare for an average of eight years.
The reforms of 1996 brought an end to a broken welfare system. At the heart of the law was a requirement that able-bodied adults work, search for work, or prepare for work as a condition of receiving cash assistance. The federal government set the goal of returning those on welfare to work, and states were provided significant flexibility and fixed federal support to meet that goal.
In the years following enactment, the number of individuals on welfare dropped by 57 percent, employment of single mothers increased by 15 percent, and child poverty in female-headed households fell significantly. Welfare reform helped end dependency, reduce poverty, and strengthen the income security of millions of needy families.
Despite the broad success of welfare reform and its continued support across party lines, we are here today to defend the law against an unprecedented attack by the Obama administration. On July 12, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a rule that invites states to seek a waiver of the law’s work requirements. The American public has heard a lot of false rhetoric in support of this executive overreach.
First, we’ve been told the Secretary of HHS has the authority to grant waivers of the work requirements. Not true. The law provides the secretary limited and explicit waiver authority. Nowhere does it empower the secretary to waive federal work requirements. A summary of the law prepared by the Ways and Means Committee in November 1996 states clearly that any waiver approved after the date of enactment was not to include welfare’s work requirements.
Next, we’ve been told the waiver scheme is just an effort to provide states greater flexibility. That’s right, the same president whose health care law forces states to pick up $118 billion in new Medicaid costs is now concerned about state flexibility. Under the welfare law, states have broad discretion to design their own welfare systems, including determining who is eligible for assistance, how long recipients are eligible for support, and how much aid a welfare recipient receives. States clearly have a great deal of flexibility to achieve the goals of the law; what they cannot do is ignore those goals through unlawful waivers.
We’ve also been told Republican governors previously proposed changes to the law that would waive the work requirements. This is also not true. In a 2005 letter to congressional leaders, governors did request greater flexibility in administering their welfare programs, but we have no evidence they sought power to waive its work requirements. Ultimately, the law was reauthorized without expanding the secretary’s waiver authority, further proof that Congress believes the work requirements are critical to the law’s success and that they should not and cannot be waived.
Finally, we’ve been told the president’s waiver scheme will make welfare reform stronger. This is perhaps the most deceptive rhetoric of all. According to one independent analysis of the law and the president’s waiver policy, if a state increases the number of individuals who exit the program through employment by just three-tenths of one percent, tens of thousands of welfare recipients in that state could be exempt from the work requirements. An overwhelming majority of families would no longer be required to follow the letter of the law, yet we are supposed to believe the president isn’t dismantling reform through executive fiat?
In recent weeks, President Obama has talked a great deal about moving the country forward. This stands in sharp contrast to his welfare waiver scheme, which unwinds the most successful social reform in a generation and takes us back to the days when families in need of assistance were trapped in a broken welfare system. It is the very antithesis of compassion to perpetuate policies that promote dependency, poverty, and despair, yet that is precisely what the president is seeking to do.
That is why we must pass this important resolution. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has confirmed the administration’s welfare waiver plan is a rule and Congress has the right to review it. If a president runs roughshod over the law, seizes power that he doesn’t have, and pursues policies that hurt needy families, Congress has no choice but to act. H.J.Res. 118 will preserve the work requirements critical to the success of bipartisan welfare reform, and I urge my colleagues to support it.
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