- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2003

Welfare rolls continue to shrink, but don’t expect to hear Republicans get any credit for the reform they championed and eventually pressured Bill Clinton to sign into law in 1996. Just about the only topic that unites the entire motley crew of Democratic presidential aspirants is the claim that George W. Bush and Republicans in Congress are leading the nation to disaster, both economically and militarily. Even Teamsters boss James Hoffa, who is considered less leftist than other labor leaders and has been the target of unwanted Republican affection, lashed out at the commander in chief last week. “I don’t think he understands the economy; he doesn’t understand the problems working families are having, losing their jobs,” Mr. Hoffa said. Democratic candidate Howard Dean, representing the line spouted by his fellow Democrats, criticized the Republican president, because supposedly, “He promised us jobs; he’s taken away jobs.” Partisan rhetoric aside, the numbers are beginning to tell a different story.

According to a report released by the Department of Health and Human Services, the number of Americans dependent on welfare checks is dropping. From March 2002 to March 2003, individual welfare recipients declined by 4.3 percent. In the same time frame, the number of families with children needing welfare dropped 2 percent. Since welfare-to-work policies became national law eight years ago, individuals on welfare have declined by 59.5 percent and welfare families by 53.7 percent. The good news is not limited to this dramatic decline in welfare recipients. Employment numbers are improving, too. The Labor Department reported on Friday that a net of 19,000 new jobs were created in August. After six months of declining payrolls, a turn toward job growth is a good sign of economic progress.

So, if the economy is showing hints of improvement, why are Democrats still screaming that the sky is falling? Some of the hysterics are due to the presidential election next year, as Democrats are jockeying to position themselves as the most effective candidate to take on Mr. Bush and Republican policies. There are also legislative reasons for Democrats to decry the economy and defend the need for a stronger “safety net.” The successful welfare reform of 1996, known as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF, expired last year. And although passed by the House, Senate Republicans have not been able to deliver passage in the upper chamber. Last week, Assistant HHS Secretary Wade F. Horn pushed for an update of the TANF law, saying, “We know that full-time work is the best route out of poverty.” Democrats, however, are standing in the way. Many were opposed when Mr. Clinton signed welfare reform in the first place and now see an opportunity to set back the clock. It will be a sad day if Democrats succeed in scoring political points by stopping progress for the poor.

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