During his run for the presidency in 2008, Barack Obama praised the work requirements that were the centerpiece of welfare reform — the very requirements his administration just gutted last week.
During a discussion with pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church, Obama declared: “[O]ne of the things that I am absolutely convinced of is that we have to work as a centerpiece of any social policy.” Video of the exchange:
Obama’s administration last Thursday gutted the work requirements that were part of reforms to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in 1996. The welfare reform law became a signature accomplishment for President Bill Clinton and the Republican-led Congress. Now, a new directive from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) claims for the secretary the authority to waive TANF work requirements, the heart of the successful 1996 reforms. In the past, the lack of tough federal work requirements has allowed activities such as bed rest, smoking cessation and exercise to be counted as work.
Ironically, Rev. Warren’s question to Obama in 2008 centered on a position Obama once held that he no longer supported. Obama picked welfare reform, explaining that as a state lawmaker in Illinois he was skeptical of Clinton’s action in 1996.
Now, it seems, Obama has flip-flopped once again.
Here’s the transcript of Warren’s exchange with Obama on Aug. 16, 2008:
WARREN: What’s the most significant position you held ten years ago that you no longer hold today, that you flipped on, you changed on, because you actually see it differently?
OBAMA: Because I actually changed my mind.
WARREN: You changed your mind. Exactly.
OBAMA: Well, you know, I — I’m trying to think back ten years ago. I think that a good example would be the issue of welfare reform, where I always believed that welfare had to be changed. I was much more concerned ten years ago when President Clinton initially signed the bill that this could have disastrous results. I worked in the Illinois legislature to make sure that we were providing child care and health care, other support services for the women who were going to be kicked off the roles after a certain time.
It had — it worked better than, I think, a lot of people anticipated. And, you know, one of the things that I am absolutely convinced of is that we have to work as a centerpiece of any social policy.
OBAMA: Not only because — not only because ultimately people who work are going to get more income, but the intrinsic dignity of work, the sense of purpose.
WARREN: We were made for work.
OBAMA: We were made for work, and the sense that you are part of a community, because you’re making a contribution, no matter how small to the well-being of the country as a whole. I think that is something that Democrats generally, I think, have made a significant shift on.
Apparently, however, Democrats like Obama have not made that big of a shift.
The Obama administration’s action last week amounts to the end of welfare reform as we know it, according to The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector and Kiki Bradley. The HHS action was also illegal, drawing the wrath of lawmakers who have introduced legislation that would prohibit the administration from enforcing its new policy.
Rob Bluey directs the Center for Media and Public Policy, an investigative journalism operation at The Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter: @RobertBluey