Obama faces Capitol Hill revolt after gutting welfare reform work requirements

posted at 6:01 pm on July 19, 2012 by Rob Bluey

A coalition of Republicans in the House and Senate vowed to preserve the work requirements at the heart of welfare reform after the Obama administration announced last week it would illegally gut the 1996 law. Lawmakers could vote in the coming days on a plan that prohibits the administration from implementing its unilateral action.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a policy directive on July 12 that grants waiver authority for the work requirements in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The new directive give states the authority to waive work requirements, “opening the door for activities like bed rest, smoking cessation and exercise to be counted as work,” the lawmakers warned. Congress specifically excluded this action when it adopted the law in 1996 to prevent abuse.

The administration’s move provoked a swift reaction on Capitol Hill. The new legislation, Preserving Work Requirements for Welfare Programs Act, was spearheaded by House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN), Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH), and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), ranking member of the Finance Committee.

Camp promised quick action in the House:

The Obama Administration has once again overstepped its bounds, this time to the detriment of those struggling most under their failed economic policies. The Administration’s unprecedented efforts to undo welfare reforms that resulted in higher earnings and employment for low-income Americans cannot be allowed to stand.

This legislation, which I expect the House to consider in the coming days, simply reaffirms what the law already says — that the work requirements at the heart of welfare reform may not be waived. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting and passing this important bill and bringing a swift resolution to this matter.

The 1996 reforms, a signature achievement of the Clinton administration, have helped millions of Americans escape poverty. They were also a key step to reducing dependence on government. Child poverty rates in female-headed households are lower today than before the reforms, according to the lawmakers.

In addition to being questionable policy, the Obama administration’s action is also illegal, according to an analysis of the HHS memorandum by The Heritage Foundation’s Todd Gaziano and Robert Alt. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has yet to respond to a request from Camp and Hatch explaining the legal justification. She has ignored their July 16 deadline and has refused to answer. Now, through legislation, they will attempt to block any action on her part.

Looking beyond the current controversy, Obama appears to have created an opportunity to refocus the country’s attention on the growing welfare state. Jordan, who leads the conservative Republican Study Committee, introduced the Welfare Reform Act of 2011 to require recipients of food stamps to work or prepare for a job, disclose the costs of total federal, state, and local welfare spending, and return welfare spending to its 2007 level once unemployment hits 6.5 percent.

TANF, the program Clinton and Congress reformed in 1996, is just one of 77 welfare programs run by the federal government. The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector, who played an instrumental role in the 1996 reforms, puts the total cost at nearly $1 trillion for taxpayers. It has skyrocketed under Obama (emphasis added):

Obama has increased federal means-tested welfare spending by a third since taking office. Last year, combined federal and state spending on means-tested welfare hit $927 billion. (Social Security and Medicare are not included in this total.)

Welfare spending amounts to $9,040 per year for each lower-income American. If converted to cash and simply given to the recipients, this spending would be more than sufficient to bring the income of every lower-income American household to 200 percent of the federal poverty level (roughly $44,000 per year for a family of four).

Remarkably, Obama plans to increase spending on means-tested welfare spending further after the current recession ends, spreading the wealth through a dramatic, permanent expansion of the welfare state. The President’s own budget calls for a permanent increase in annual means-tested spending from 4.5 percent to 6 percent of gross domestic product. Combined annual federal and state spending would reach $1.56 trillion in 2022. Overall, President Obama plans to spend $12.7 trillion on means-tested welfare over the next decade.

Rob Bluey directs the Center for Media and Public Policy, an investigative journalism operation at The Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter: @RobertBluey

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100 is not worth what it once was.

Bmore on July 19, 2012 at 9:08 PM

See what I mean.

Bmore on July 19, 2012 at 9:09 PM

romney is the purported head of the gop. right? he is TEH MAN. so why is he so mute. nothing. nada. church mouse thy name is mitt.

what has mitt said about the issue. he has a gazillion writers. whats his attack against another power putsch from obama?

why is he waiting for the enemy to define him. can’t some of his supporter talk sense to the man?

renalin on July 19, 2012 at 9:30 PM

Obama is doing what he needs to do…he’s implementing the Coward/Piven strategy…collasping our system to bring in their own system. This has been well thought out and planned for many decades! Look up Coward/Piven for yourself and then you will understand what Obama is doing!

Jacamina on July 19, 2012 at 10:30 PM

because he is not yet been nomimated. there is still months left. Obama just burned through a ton of cash on this last attack and his numbers went down. Romney is smart and patient. Obama is going to get killed in the debates. When Romney gets the nomination the money will start flowing. Romney will start to run comercials that will be very effective.

newportmike on July 19, 2012 at 10:31 PM

Only the ‘rats in ‘safe’ districts will vote against it.

It might give us a peek at how many ‘rats don’t sit comfortably in their House seats.

CPT. Charles on July 19, 2012 at 11:17 PM

From the Heritage article linked in the story-

Section 415(a)(2)(B) of the welfare reform act, now codified at 42 U.S.C. § 615(a)(2)(B), expressly states that “a waiver granted under section 1315 of this title [the one that HHS now claims it is acting under] or otherwise which relates to the provision of assistance under a State program funded under this part (as in effect on September 30, 1996) shall not affect the applicability of section 607 of this title [which applies the work requirements] to the State.” In short, whatever else might be said of the scope of the waiver authority, the Secretary has no lawful authority to waive the work requirements of section 607, which is what HHS is contemplating in its Memorandum.

So if the HHS has no authority to waive these requirements, why is Congress wasting time trying to pass another piece of legislation instead of, you know, enforcing the law as it currently stands? Can Obama and Sebelius flout the law with impunity? Is America still a nation of laws that apply to everyone? Or has it become a banana republic where those in authority can do whatever the heck they want, law be damned?

The GOP in Congress- and John Boehner- need to grow a backbone and stand up to this lawless administration once and for all. You can be sure that if roles were reversed that Dems would cut off funding to HHS and do whatever else they could to stop a similar act by a GOP administration.

Jay Mac on July 20, 2012 at 5:25 AM

Obama’s presidency leitmotiv, seen in his rejection of credit for success with his “you didn’t build that” speech, is concretely played here. He is the top apologist for weak will & character, for weakness and failure, and he tells the weak what they want to hear that reduces the already reduced sense of shame in his core constituency.

Chessplayer on July 20, 2012 at 8:57 AM

Uh, excuse me, President Foreigner, but WORK is what we Americans do. Are you preparing for your own welfare existence?

Gordy on July 20, 2012 at 9:54 AM

red_herring: Is everyone here insane???

I am! In fact every time the POTUS opens his mouth or thinks a thought I assume he is being evil, lying and/or destroying America.

You can call me crazy and insane!

sdbatboy on July 20, 2012 at 10:58 AM

The exercise of waiver authority contemplated in the July 12 Information Memorandum is clearly authorized by section 1115(a)(1) ofthe Social Security Act. Section 1115(a)(1)allows the Secretary to “waive compliance with any of the requirements of section … 402[of the Act] … to theextent and for the period [s]he finds necessary to enable [a] State …to carry out” an approved experimental, pilot, or demonstration project that will assist in promoting the objectives of the TANF program.

red_herring on July 19, 2012 at 6:16 PM

Ok, I know I’m very late… but here goes.

If what you write is the law, and I take your post at face value, then even you must acknowledge that she CANNOT issue a blanket waiver (which she did). I’ve highlighted key words within your quote.

1) The waiver only extends to individual states, not all states.

2) The waiver can only be issued for a state if that state submits a pilot program promoting the objectives of the TANF program, and…

3) The waiver can only be issued IF the submitted pilot program is approved.


Which states have submitted TANF pilot programs, and what was the approval process (and oversight) to which they were subjected, and which programs were finally approved?

Unless those questions are answered, waivers are illegal according to what you just quoted.

dominigan on July 20, 2012 at 12:45 PM

Why are they trying to pass a law that tells obama to follow a law he’s already ignoring? Knowing full well it will never see the light of day in the senate nor get signed by the very guy who’s ignoring the law in the first place?

Getting a little tired of the theatre.

Congress knows full well they can’t do a damn thing about this. Anyone who would have standing to bring suit has a vested interest in NOT doing so.

We’re done folks.

runawayyyy on July 20, 2012 at 1:30 PM