We sure do live in interesting times. Honestly I prefer the boring times where things boringly work the way they’re meant to work.
It looks like we are about to have massive government spending in order to ‘stimulate’ our economy. Never mind the fact that the things they (the Democrats) want to spend money on has nothing to do with the economy. They claim that there are no earmarks in this new legislation but that is only because they don’t need to earmark their pork and sneaky legislation.
I just found out one new item that they are putting in. The return of unlimited welfare. Back when Newt Gingrich and the Republican’s finally took control of the congress, after 50 some years of Democrat control, they created the Contract with America. One of the most important pieces of that legislation was welfare reform. It put a limit on how long people could recieve federal dollars. Bill Clinton often took all the credit for this and it’s subsequent increase in employment, but it was the Repulican’s that fought for this.
The Return of Welfare As We Knew It
The House stimulus bill endangers Clinton’s biggest reform.
By BENJAMIN E. SASSE and KERRY N. WEEMS
Twelve years ago, President Bill Clinton signed a law that he correctly proclaimed would end “welfare as we know it.” That sweeping legislation, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, eliminated the open-ended entitlement that had existed since 1965, replacing it with a finite, block grant approach called the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program.
TANF has been a remarkable success. Welfare caseloads nationally fell from 12.6 million in 1997 to fewer than five million in 2007. And yet despite this achievement, House Democrats are seeking to undo Mr. Clinton’s reforms under the cover of the stimulus bill.
Currently, welfare recipients are limited to a total of five years of federal benefits over a lifetime. They’re also required to begin working after two years of government support. States are accountable for helping their needy citizens transition from handouts to self-sufficiency. Critically, the funds provided to states are fixed appropriations by the federal government.
Through a little noticed provision of the stimulus package that has passed the House of Representatives, the bill creates a fund for TANF that is open-ended — the same way Medicare and Social Security are.
In the section of the House bill dealing with cash assistance to low-income families, the authors inserted the bombshell phrase: “such sums as are necessary.” This is a profound departure from the current statutory scheme, despite the fact that, in this particular bill, state TANF spending would be capped. The “such sums” appropriation language is deliberately obscure. It is a camel’s nose provision intended to reverse Clinton-era legislation and create a new template for future TANF reauthorizations.
Most liberals have always disliked welfare reform; critics of TANF believed Mr. Clinton supported it only to get re-elected. Some asserted it was racist or intended to punish the poor. Others claimed that the funds to assist single mothers with child care, transportation and job training were never as generous as were allegedly promised. Today, the fact that disqualification from the program is based on failing to secure a job within two years seems especially harsh given this economic crisis.
There are legitimate objections to the program that are worth debating. But this is not an open debate: It is a near secret provision buried deep in a more than 600-page piece of legislation.
The TANF provisions of the stimulus bill, like the nearly $100 billion Medicaid provisions, are less about stimulating the economy, and more about the federal government absorbing the states’ budget problems. State budgets may be swamped with those needing temporary relief, and a contingency fund could help. But it should be a definite amount, not a precedent-setting, open-ended amount. (If the initial TANF allocation is not sufficient, Congress could appropriate another definite amount.)
The offending language is not in yesterday’s Senate version of the bill, but that provides little comfort. The attempt to undo welfare reform has not been transparent, and the conference committee provides the perfect closed-door environment for slipping in “such sums” language into the final bill without public scrutiny.
Welfare reform was arguably the most important legislative development of the mid-1990s. It is bad policy to jettison it with five words during an economic crisis.
All who are concerned about our nation’s unfunded obligations should be on guard against attempts to slip “such sums” language into any conference committee bill. Welfare policy is too important to change with a stealth maneuver.
Mr. Sasse, former U.S. assistant secretary of Health and Human services, teaches policy at the University of Texas. Mr. Weems, former vice chairman of the American Health Information Community, held the position of administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services until last month.
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A15