A few decades ago (in blog time — that’s a couple of weeks ago in ordinary time) Republicans were making hay with a charge that President Obama was “gutting” the work requirement of welfare reform by agreeing to consider waiver requests from various states. Never mind that some of the requests came from Republican governors, and never mind that the goal of the waivers was to increase the number of welfare recipients who transition into jobs (“Governors must commit that their proposals will move at least 20% more people from welfare to work compared to the state’s past performance,” HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius confirmed in a letter). None of that mattered. Obama was gutting work requirements in obvious solidarity with welfare queens and strapping young bucks everywhere.
Anyway, I thought it was a three-day kind of eruption that had since died away. But no! Ed Kilgore tells me that this has become the latest centerpiece of Mitt Romney’s campaign. He provides us with some history:
This is kind of personal with me. I worked on welfare policy back in the 90s at the Progressive Policy Institute, which was the absolute hotbed of “work first” approaches to welfare reform. [This was back when Ed was an evil neoliberal. –ed.] Indeed, we were about the only people in the non-technical chattering classes who seemed to understand the distinction between the Clinton administration’s philosophy of welfare reform (aimed at getting welfare recipients into private-sector jobs, not just through work requirements but with robust “making work pay” supports like an expanded EITC, which was enacted at Clinton’s insistence well before welfare reform) and that of congressional Republicans (House Republicans were mainly concerned about punishing illegitimacy and denying assistance to legal immigrants, while Senate Republicans enacted a bill that was just a straight block grant that let states do whatever they wanted so long as they saved the feds money).
I mention this ancient history to point out the rich irony of conservatives now attacking Obama for an alleged hostility to the private-sector job placement emphasis they never gave a damn about, and for giving states more flexibility in administering the federal cash assistance program, which GOPers at every level of government (including Mitt Romney) were clamoring for loudly before, during and after the 1996 debate.
There’s a technical question underlying all this that relates to HHS’s legal basis for considering these waivers, and I don’t really have an informed opinion about that. But Romney’s latest ad states flatly that Obama plans to gut welfare reform by “dropping work requirements.” What’s more, “Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check.”
This takes a shameless distortion and turns it into an outright falsehood. There’s no Obama plan in the first place; there’s certainly no plan to “drop” work requirements; and Sebelius has been crystal clear that the only waivers that will even be considered are ones that measurably increase the transition from welfare to work. Perhaps PolitiFact would care to weigh in on this?