PICKET: No tears from any Dems over stripping welfare work requirements

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Presumptive Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is going after President Obama for gutting the work requirements, the centerpiece of the 1996 welfare reform legislation, via executive order. The directive is to be administered through Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The new policy initiative, that was quietly installed on July 12, allows HHS to waive the work requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. 

However, Congressional Republicans and conservative media took notice and were in an uproar about it. “President Obama just tore up a basic foundation of the welfare contract. In exchange for taxpayer-funded TANF payments, the law calls on able-bodied adults to work, look for work, take classes, or undergo drug and alcohol counseling. It’s the tough love that gives people motivation to help themselves,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, and author of the welfare reform act of 2011. 

Democrats who had supported the original 1996 welfare law , though, were strangely silent. On July 24, I asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, about his thoughts on the changes in the welfare reform bill that he voted for in 1996, and he only said “When did it pass? I was a kid then…I’ll take a look at that. I haven’t hear a word about that. Your term ‘gut’ is one thing that probably isn’t true.”

(Listen Here)

Although most Democrats in the House voted against the welfare reform bill and most Democrats in the Senate supported the final version of welfare reform bill. 

The Romney campaign is running ads like this one: 

and this one:


The second ad quote Democrats supportive of the welfare reform bill, including: President Clinton, then Senator Joe Biden, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan Democrat, and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. At the end of the ad then Senator Barack Obama says he probably would not have supported the federal welfare bill. 

“Repeal equals death,” columnist Jonathan Alter said on MSNBC’s “Ed Show” on Thursday night. “People will die in the United States if ObamaCare is repealed. That is not an exaggeration. That is not crying fire. It’s a simple fact. If you have preexisting conditions and you are thrown off of health insurance, or if you get sick after you or your husband, spouse, loses the job, you’re not going to go to the doctor as soon, your cancer or disease is not going to be caught as quickly, and your odds of dying are much, much increased.”

“ObamaCare will save, literally, thousands of lives,” Alter declared. 

After the ads aired, Democrats became mouthier about in their defense of the Obama administration’s move to waive the work requirements for TANF. Bill Clinton charged that the Romney ads were “not true“ and the Obama campaign said that GOP governors from Utah and Nevada pleaded with the administration for more “flexibility”with the work requirements in the TANF program.

First, Clinton was never a huge fan of the central work requirements for food stamps in the welfare reform legislation. That was one of the main aspects of the bill that held it up between the Congress and the executive. Then Congressman John Kasich, Ohio Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican went and back and forth with the White House over this very issue.

The Progressive reported in 1996 during Clinton’s re-election campaign: (bolding is mine)

But “we are not going to leave our party because of this bill,” Waters said. “The opportunity to correct this bill lies with Bill Clinton and the Democrats.”

One speaker after another reinforced Waters’s point: The welfare bill is a disaster for poor women and children, but we must line up behind Clinton anyway. In his second term, with the help of a Democratic Congress, Clinton will pass legislation that will undo the legislation he just signed, Waters, Steinem, Smeal, and Abzug all said.

The Washington Times reported in 1996:(bolding is mine)

The new food-stamp work requirement says single, able-bodied recipients have to work or be in job training at least 20 hours a week to keep their benefits. The CBO has estimated that 800,000 to 1.1 million people could be disqualified in an average month, reducing program costs by $5.1 billion by 2002.

The premise of the rule is simple, House Budget Committee Chairman John R. Kasich said at the time: “You’ve got to do some work to get some food stamps.”

Asked yesterday about the White House’s suggestion that the work requirement be changed, an aide to the Ohio Republican said the administration should “try to explain to the hard-working waitress at Bob Evans or some other restaurant that she has to work and pay taxes, whereas a 20-year-old able-bodied guy with no kids doesn’t have to work and gets food stamps.”

The White House has also suggested changing new housing rules in the food-stamp program. The CBO has estimated that the new caps on the shelter deductions food stamp recipients may claim will save $3.3 billion through 2002.

Fixing” the welfare measure has been a topic since Mr. Clinton signed it with reservations Aug. 22.

Democrats have wanted to repeal or at least weaken welfare reform bill since its passage. The doom and gloom predictions made by the liberal wing of their party never happened as a result of the legislation, though Bill Clinton enjoys taking credit for the parts he did not care for much, and these are the parts that have been obliterated by Obama. 

Former Illinois Senator Carol Mosley Braun called the welfare reform bill, “Pontius Pilate approach.” 

In fact, Mosley Braun wondered aloud whether the welfare reform bill would prompt the widespread auctioning of children into slavery.

“What you’re saying to those people [on welfare] is `starve,’” said Rep. Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat.

“This is the most mean-spirited amendment that I have ever seen on any bill,” said Rep. W. G. “Bill” Hefner, North Carolina Democrat. “If this is what you have to do to get re-elected in this Congress, I don’t want to be a part of this body any longer. It’s degrading.”

“The bill would transform America into a third world nation leaving, “children hungry and homeless and begging for money—begging for food and even at eight and nine years old engaging in prostitution,” moaned Sen. Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat.

Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat predicted that “within two years of enactment the bill would put 1.5 million to 2.5 million children into poverty,” while Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, New York Democrat, said that the law “would have children sleeping on grates.”

In April of 2011, Rep. Virginia Foxx, North Carolina Republican, reminded members of some of the dire predictions their fellow colleagues made years ago and pointed out the obvious.  (watch video start at :58)

“What happened?” she asked. “Child poverty rates dropped by one percent per year and the five years following the passage of the 1996 personal responsibility and work opportunity act. It remained below 1995 levels even though the nation is still emerging from a severe recession.”

Finally, what about the two GOP governors from Utah and Nevada who Obama claims begged for “flexibility” with the work waivers? Politico reports: 

Asked for a response, the Sandoval administration denied asking for a waiver and blasted the Obama administration comments in the briefing — despite the fact that the Sandoval administration wrote a 2011 letter inquiring about waiver possibilities. They never actually requested one, however – simply inquired.

“Nevada did not request a waiver and despite repeated solicitations by the administration to seek a waiver, Nevada HHS has consistently notified the Administration that Nevada has no intention of requesting one,” Sandoval spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner told POLITICO.
“The Obama administration’s attempt to portray Nevada’s comments as anything more than an attempt to increase efficiency and improve outcomes for our programs is a gross mischaracterization to advance its own agenda,” Kinner said.

Asked for a counter-response, the White House said they actually agreed with the Sandoval administration — that their HHS welfare changes were simply a way to improve outcomes and streamline efficiency.

“We agree with the Sandoval Administration: any attempt to characterize this policy ‘as anything more than an attempt to increase efficiency and improve outcomes for our programs is a gross mischaracterization,’” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

Utah did not dispute Carney’s characterization, touting the flexibility offered by Utah’s request.
“The cornerstone of Utah’s philosophy is that all who can work should work, and that states are laboratories of innovation. Utah actively promotes these core beliefs by advocating for state and federal policies that support these principles,” Herbert said in a letter released last month.

Democrats and liberals alike are counting on weak memories of those who barely remember the welfare reform battles on Capitol Hill. However, it is difficult to forget something somebody keeps demonizing you over for. So If there is ever a window to repeal the health care law diatribes like Jonathan Alter’s will be amusing to re-read years later like this one:

“Repeal equals death,” columnist Jonathan Alter said on MSNBC’s “Ed Show” tonight. “People will die in the United States if ObamaCare is repealed. That is not an exaggeration. That is not crying fire. It’s a simple fact. If you have preexisting conditions and you are thrown off of health insurance, or if you get sick after you or your husband, spouse, loses the job, you’re not going to go to the doctor as soon, your cancer or disease is not going to be caught as quickly, and your odds of dying are much, much increased.”

“They don’t need to embrace this ad and get into a big fight about whether they were calling Mitt Romney a murderer or whatever. They need to move on to a debate about the main issue, which is ObamaCare. And they can bring death into the conversation and say, ‘No, we’re not calling Mitt Romney a murderer, what we are saying is that if he’s elected president, a lot of people will die.’ Those are two slightly different, but related issues,” Alter said.



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About the Author
Kerry Picket

Kerry Picket

Kerry Picket, a former Opinion Blogger/Editor of The Watercooler, was associate producer for the Media Research Center, a content producer for Robin Quivers of "The Howard Stern Show" on Sirius satellite radio and a production assistant and copy writer at MTV.

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