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August 22, 2012 4:31 PM Who’s Really Threatening to “Gut” Welfare Reform?

By Ed Kilgore

So the lies go on: yesterday the Romney/Ryan campaign put out a set of talking points commemorating the sixteenth anniversary of Bill Clinton’s signing of the 1996 welfare reform legislation by continuing to ignore Clinton’s own rebuke of their race-baiting, mendacious ads on the subject and repeating the lies all over again.

But Team Mitt stepped in at least one cow pie in the latest broadside: linking to a 2006 Clinton op-ed ruminating on the lessons of the original debate over welfare reform. Here are some excerpts that I don’t think the Romney campaign really wants anyone to read or think about:

Most Democrats and Republicans wanted to pass welfare legislation shifting the emphasis from dependence to empowerment. Because I had already given 45 states waivers to institute their own reform plans, we had a good idea of what would work. Still, there were philosophical gaps to bridge. The Republicans wanted to require able-bodied people to work, but were opposed to continuing the federal guarantees of food and medical care to their children and to spending enough on education, training, transportation and child care to enable people to go to work in lower-wage jobs without hurting their children…..
The success of welfare reform was bolstered by other anti-poverty initiatives, including the doubling of the earned-income tax credit in 1993 for lower-income workers; the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, which included $3 billion to move long-term welfare recipients and low-income, noncustodial fathers into jobs; the Access to Jobs initiative, which helped communities create innovative transportation services to enable former welfare recipients and other low-income workers to get to their new jobs; and the welfare-to-work tax credit, which provided tax incentives to encourage businesses to hire long-term welfare recipients.
I also signed into law the toughest child-support enforcement in history, doubling collections; an increase in the minimum wage in 1997; a doubling of federal financing for child care, helping parents look after 1.5 million children in 1998; and a near doubling of financing for Head Start programs.
The recent welfare reform amendments, largely Republican-only initiatives, cut back on states’ ability to devise their own programs. They also disallowed hours spent pursuing an education from counting against required weekly work hours. I doubt they will have the positive impact of the original legislation.
We should address the inadequacies of the latest welfare reauthorization in a bipartisan manner, by giving states the flexibility to consider higher education as a category of “work,” and by doing more to help people get the education they need and the jobs they deserve. And perhaps even more than additional welfare reform, we need to raise the minimum wage, create more good jobs through a commitment to a clean energy future and enact tax and other policies to support families in work and child-rearing.

As you probably know, it’s by expressing an openness to state flexibility in achieving job placement goals by considering some kinds of education and training a suitable “work” activity that has supposedly exposed the Obama administration to the charge of “gutting” welfare reform, if not to the 100% dishonest assertion that it is eliminating all work requirement and just mailing checks out unconditionally.

But beyond the testimony, past and present, of Bill Clinton that the Obama administration is closely hewing to the original design of welfare reform—despite Obama’s own original misgivings about the legislation—there’s all these other make-work-pay provisions that Clinton and most other welfare reform advocates in both parties considered essential: a robust EITC and minimum wage; food assistance; medical assistance; child care; Head Start; job training; and yes, education assistance. The Ryan Budget proposes scaling back the EITC and radically reducing both food assistance and the availability of health insurance for the working poor, not to mention the drastic non-defense discretionary budget cuts it demands that are almost certain to devastate every other “work support” offered by federal or state governments.

The supreme irony of the Romney/Ryan assault on Obama is that it’s the accusers who are guilty of proposing to “gut” work-based welfare reform, which is not and never was just a matter of imposing work requirements and time-limits and expecting all those lazy women-with-kids to get off their duffs and accept those plentiful, well-paying jobs. While no one expects the GOP campaign to admit they’d unravel nearly every policy that made the 1996 law work as well as it did, they should at least have the decency to stop accusing Obama of “gutting” an initiative whose spirit and letter they reject root and branch.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • Daddy Love on August 22, 2012 4:48 PM:

    Decency. That's funny.

  • c u n d gulag on August 22, 2012 4:52 PM:

    At some point, the brighter members of the MSM will check everything that's told to them by, not only the Romney campaign, but by right-wing media outlets - if there are any bright ones left, that is.

    If I were a print reporter, or in the broadcast media, if any Conservative or Republican told me that the sun would rise in the east the next morning, I'd be damn sure to stay up until it had been up in the sky for at least an hour before I filed a story or report - just to be sure.

  • kevo on August 22, 2012 5:08 PM:

    At this juncture, I would proffer the Romney campaign has been deplorable but it has been more than that!

    The Romney campaign, to date, has been despicable! -Kevo

  • Colleen Carpenter on August 22, 2012 7:56 PM:

    But this has been an important Republican strategy to gut programs all along! It didn't begin with welfare. #1 - Join with progressive reformers to achieve consensus on the issue, e.g. residential mental health care, education system failures, #2 - Agree (temporarily) to a combination of programs and supports to address the issue while still seeking to support positive outcomes. #3 - Underfund the programs they presumably agreed to, continue to chip away at funding, all the while decrying the performance of the programs thus sabotaged. #4 - Having sabotaged the ability of programs to succeed, use the under-performance to argue for further cuts or elimination. #5 - Repeat steps 3-4 until programs are destroyed. This is how the chronically mentally came once again to roam through and die on our city streets and why the original welfare reform wasn't even more successful. Public education is next.

  • Mavor on August 22, 2012 9:40 PM:

    Many people don't realize the true Republican agenda. It is racist to the core. They really want African Americans to live on a subsistence level so they all can afford maids and gardeners. They don't want any Mexicans. They want to go back to the old days when they could get a maid and cook for p-nuts.....People who haven't lived in the South, especially the rural South, don't realize how backward they are and proud of it. Go to the country club in Selma Alabama. No Black members, but lots of Black help. Go to Greenville MS, same thing. African Americans living in third world conditions. Go to the Southern Yacht Club in New Orleans. Black waiters in bow ties and no African American members. They don't want to give anyone a hand up. It will ruin their labor supply.

  • yellowdog on August 22, 2012 10:49 PM:

    c u n d gulag on August 22, 2012 4:52 PM:

    At some point MSM will find a spine? I wish. I wish. I've been waiting for that development for some years.

    As for Mitt Romney's behavior in this campaign? It probably has his father, a decent man who was punished for his decency by Nixon, rolling in his grave. Great - we have another GOP nominee with daddy issues.