With the presidential campaigns entrenched in hand-to-hand fighting, Democrats are looking for a way to capture the voters’ attention. They think they’ve found the edge with new policies designed to increase government dependency. The latest gambit would relieve benefit recipients of any personal responsibility. Fortunately, the battle isn’t over.
On Wednesday, a group of congressional Republicans led by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp and Senate Finance Committee ranking member Orrin G. Hatch introduced a bill to block the Obama administration from its attempt to exempt states from the work requirements for welfare recipients. Without consulting Congress, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last week issued guidance allowing states, for the first time, to seek such waivers.
Faced with intense blowback, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney did his best to deflect criticism, saying “only waivers with compelling plans to move more people off of welfare and into work will be considered.” The Republican legislation would block HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius from implementing her directive and prevent future efforts to do away with work requirements. Late Wednesday night, Mrs. Sebelius responded to a letter from Mr. Hatch and Mr. Camp in which she attempted to justify herself, insisting HHS would approve only “good” waivers.
Mr. Obama’s move to let people sit around and receive a government check fits a growing Democratic Party policy trend. New York Rep. Charles B. Rangel introduced the Public Tenants Housing Respect Act, which would repeal requirements for public-housing residents to do community service. Currently, adults younger than 62 who don’t have a child under age 13 are required to perform just eight hours a month.
Mr. Rangel cited the 14th Amendment, which prevents people from being deprived of life, liberty or property without due process as the constitutional authority for doing away with this modest service. Apparently, the housing recipients are fine with receiving discounted rent, but giving back to their community is too much of a burden.
Rep. Henry C. “Hank” Johnson Jr., Georgia Democrat, has legislation that would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of employment status. The bill has 56 co-sponsors — almost a third of the Democratic caucus — and would add the phrase “unemployment status” next to every mention of “national origin.” By this reasoning, you’re as blameless for not having a job as you are for your sex, religion or race.
The bipartisan welfare reform of 1996 went a long way toward changing the mentality for those receiving welfare benefits from entitlement to earning. The changes put the needy on a path toward full employment and self-sufficiency instead of a lifetime of unemployment and dependency. A Rasmussen poll released this week found that 83 percent of Americans support a work requirement as a condition for receiving welfare aid.
In September, the entire Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program will come up for reauthorization. Members of Congress should take the opportunity to strengthen the existing legislative language to prevent a backward slide into solidifying a permanent dependent class.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.