Lincoln * Institute

Colin A. Hanna

Colin A. Hanna

Let Freedom Ring, USA


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Let Freedom Ring

Gutting Welfare Reform

by Colin Hanna

A little over one hundred years ago, a Frenchman names Georges Polti wrote a book called "The 36 Dramatic Situations." He studied western literature from the Greeks to the then modern days and concluded that every plotline in every book in every language could be characterized as being one or more of 36 basic situations — that, in fact, there were no more than 36 genuinely unique plotlines in life. It's a challenging theory, yet it has held up all these years because, as you read through his analysis, it really is revelational: Polti is essentially right.

I am writing and recording this from Washington, where I am convinced there are far fewer than 36 dramatic situations. It's probably closer to half a dozen, and we just see them repeated over and over again. One of the top plotlines of the last twenty years or so is that partisan gridlock prevents too many things from getting done, and that the art of the true political compromise — the coming together of two or more widely disparate views where each side concedes something for the good of the country — has been lost. One of the last really major bipartisan pieces of legislation was the welfare reform act of 1996.

President Bill Clinton called it the end of welfare as we know it. He claims credit for it as perhaps his greatest single legislative achievement, while the Republican leaders of Congress at the time also claim it as theirs — that they forced it upon Clinton, who was a gifted enough political dealmaker to know how to get a deal done. The heart of welfare reform was the work requirement. Social scientists from all parts of the ideological spectrum agreed that it was the single greatest reason why welfare rolls decreased after its passage as more and more of the unemployed sought work and achieved the kind of economic freedom that comes from what Arthur Brooks calls earned success rather than learned helplessness.

Last week, President Obama gutted the work requirement. This is the return of welfare as we once knew it, an ineffective and demeaning system that promoted and rewarded learned helplessness. What was once a triumph of the legislative process and which ultimately earned the support of all three branches of government was brazenly upended in a unilateral dictum from the Obama executive branch. At least one member of Congress has suggested that it could even be grounds for Obama's impeachment. The Washington Post, typically known as a facilitator of this President's increasingly radical social and economic views, says that Obama's message to President Clinton about welfare reform was "drop dead."

Jennifer Rubin wrote in the Post, "President Obama is the chief executive, obligated by the Constitution to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." Obama, however, seems to have – by executive order – altered that to read "take Care that the Laws [which he likes or wished Congress had passed] be faithfully executed. The list of laws he won't enforce or is unilaterally amending is getting long: Defense of Marriage Act, immigration laws, voting laws, and anti-terror laws. He won't even enforce all the provisions of his signature legislation as we've seen in the bushels-full of ObamaCare waivers. The latest and most inexplicable gambit is his decision to undo bipartisan welfare reform.

ABC News explained: "After the Obama administration announced this week that it is opening up waivers to states from the work requirements contained in welfare reform, Republicans began to speak out against the move, complaining it completely undercuts the law. . . . Congressional Republicans decried the move as 'a blatant violation of the law' and contend the waivers will actually cause harm to the impoverished Americans because beneficiaries will come to rely on the handout with little motivation to seek employment."

Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) released this furious statement:

By gutting the work requirements in President Clinton's signature welfare reform law, President Obama is admitting his economic policies have failed.

"While President Clinton worked with Congress in a bipartisan way on welfare reform and economic opportunity, President Obama has routinely ignored Republican proposals, rejected House-passed jobs bills, and imposed an agenda that's helped keep the unemployment rate above eight percent for 41 months. Instead of working with Republicans to boost job creation, the president is simply disregarding the requirement that welfare recipients find work.

"Welfare reform was an historic, bipartisan success — this move by the Obama administration is a partisan disgrace."

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, was likewise incensed, sending a letter together with Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), head of the House Ways and Means Committee, to the Health and Human Services Department demanding an explanation. Hatch also put out a statement that read in part:

The 1996 welfare reform bill, ended welfare as an entitlement and empowered states with the authority to create unique and robust welfare to work programs. A central feature of devolution of federal authority back to the states was a vigorous work requirement for states, including a specific set of activities that qualified as "work."

Instead of work or trying to find work, welfare recipients may now continue to receive payments if they engage in the following types of activities:

1. Bed rest

2. Personal care activities

3. Massage

4. Exercise

5. Journaling

6. Motivational reading

7. Smoking cessation

8. Weight loss promotion

9. Participating in parent teacher meetings

10. Helping a friend or relative with household tasks and errands.

As Rush Limbaugh likes to say, "Folks, you can't make this stuff up." Any remaining middle of the road independent or swing voter who thinks that this president is a moderate or centrist should now be disabused of that fantasy. This President is a radical, left wing, big-government statist. He must be defeated for the continuance of this Republic. That is the dramatic situation which faces America in the summer of 2012.