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A challenge for Obama from Newt Gingrich

Posted by Richard on August 23, 2012

I’m not a big fan of Newt Gingrich, but he’s smart and articulate (when he isn’t being a loose cannon), and in the 90s he did a lot of good. This week marked the 16th anniversary of a very good thing in which he played a pivotal role: on August 22, 1996, President Clinton signed the bipartisan welfare reform bill passed by Congress. Gingrich issued a challenge (via email; online here) to President Obama to mark the anniversary:

Sixteen years ago this week, President Clinton signed the 1996 bipartisan welfare reform which he lauded as “ending welfare as we know it.” This anniversary offers President Obama a unique opportunity to honor the historic achievement.

At the heart of the 1996 law was a simple principle: no one in America should get money from the government for doing nothing. We knew the welfare system of the past was corroding the work ethic, destroying families, bankrupting our country, and most tragically of all, entrapping the poor.

That’s why we put strong work requirements at the center of the reform. We would help people get back on their feet, and after two years, they had to get a job.

At the time, critics on the left said the policy would turn millions of poor people out of their homes. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan characterized the proposal as “the most brutal act of social policy since Reconstruction.”

And as a state senator from Illinois, our current president opposed it too. Barack Obama said he “did not entirely agree with it and probably would have voted against” it. He later said he was “not a huge supporter” of the reforms.

But contrary to the dire predictions of the Left, welfare reform proved to be one of the most successful social policies in American history. Two-thirds of welfare recipients got a job or went to school. Within 4 years, 4.2 million people rose up from poverty. In five years, child poverty was at an all-time low, having dropped by 25 percent.

The work requirement was the key to achieving these gains.

Presidential candidate Barack Obama acknowledged this fact when he said at Saddleback Church pointed to welfare reform as an issue he’d been wrong about: “I was much more concerned ten years ago, when President Clinton signed the Bill, that this would have disastrous results,” he said…”It worked better than a lot of people anticipated.”

So he told us as a candidate.

But last month, President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services issued a memo announcing it would grant states waivers on the work requirements.

The HHS memo declared the authority to “waive compliance with [work requirements] and authorize a state to test approaches and methods other than those set forth in [the section pertaining to work requirements], including definitions of work activities and engagement.”

The memo then proceeds to give examples of “projects states may want to consider” – most of which are attempts either to dilute the work requirements or expand the definition of “work”.

Apparently the Obama administration didn’t believe the bureaucratic change would be noticed. When challenged, however, they denied attempting to weaken the requirements (an authority which the memo asserted but which is explicitly prohibited in the law). And having just asserted the authority to undercut the requirements, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney stated angrily that “any request from any state that undercuts the work requirement in welfare reform will be rejected.”

The apparent conflict between the Obama administration’s memo unilaterally empowering itself to waive the work requirement and the Obama White House’s denial that will ever take advantage of this new authority present the President with an opportunity on this 16th anniversary of the law: If he has no intention of waiving the requirements, he should denounce the memo and he should direct the secretary of HHS to officially rescind it.

Then we’ll know for sure if the president truly believes work should remain at the center of welfare reform.

The President and his supporters disingenuously insist that the change in HHS policy didn’t end the work requirement. In Clintonian fashion, I guess you could say it depends on what the definition of “waive” is.

In any case, what they’ve done is, as Gingrich noted “explicitly prohibited in the law” — specifically, Section 407, and the Heritage Foundation’s Andrew Grossman explained in detail how the new Obama policy flouts the law.

But then, making (or circumventing) law without regard for Congress, the Constitution, or the separation of powers seems to be this administration’s forté.

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2 Responses to “A challenge for Obama from Newt Gingrich”

  1. Olivia said

    I will never understand why the fact that Obama is using executive orders as legislation, and in fact specifically proclaimed that he would do so to circumvent an uncooperative Congress, isn’t considered a big issue. Yes, the welfare circumvention is bad law, but that by itself is just a policy disagreement, not, y’know, a freaking royal edict in the United States.

  2. zombyboy said

    For the record, I remain a big fan of Newt’s. He’s magnificently imperfect, I admit, but he’s bright as hell and a lot of his thinking matches my own. I wish that I could marry Romney’s professionalism and polish with some of Newt’s vision and even a dose of his bombastic honesty.

    As to the specific issue, I’m with Olivia. I disagree with what Obama did from a policy perspective, but I really don’t understand why the methods used aren’t raising more eyebrows. How is this not one of the biggest stories of the election cycle confuses me.

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