President Obama likes to blame everything on George W. Bush, but apparently he does not discriminate. This week, Obama obliterated one of the best things Bill Clinton ever did.
Conservatives don’t look back fondly at the Clinton years, and for good reason, although he looks decent compared to what we have today. But you have to give credit where it’s due: Clinton did some good things, and one of the best – at the prodding of Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress to be sure – was the signing of the 1996 welfare reform law.
The bill “ended welfare as we know it,” as Clinton liked to say, and introduced stringent requirements that able-bodied welfare recipients either work or spend time preparing for work. It was a good idea, and it reversed the expansion of the welfare rolls for the first time in decades. The key was that states were not allowed to waive the work requirements. Congress wrote this section of the law very carefully because they knew that some state bureaucrats would try to do just that.
Now the work requirement is gone, not because new legislation was passed to remove it, but because Obama once again decided the law does not apply to him.
On Thursday, the Obama administration issued a directive allowing states to waive the work requirement – and only the work requirement. The directive explains: “The Secretary (Kathleen Sebelius) is interested in using her authority to approve waiver demonstrations to challenge states to engage in a new round of innovation that seeks to find more effective mechanisms for helping families succeed in employment.”
In fact, Sebelius has no authority to grant such waivers. The bill makes that very clear by limiting the allowance of waivers to one section only, and it very explicitly excludes the work requirement from that section. This was not an accident. The power of the bill, and of the whole idea, was that it would only succeed if the work requirement was mandatory for all states and for all recipients.
And there’s no need for the Obama administration to “find more effective mechanisms.” Welfare reform has been a roaring success.
Of course, that depends how you define success. It only took four years after the bill had eliminated the old Aid for Families with Dependent Children program, and replaced it with the new Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, for poverty to plummet while welfare caseloads were cut in half, according to a report from the Heritage Foundation.
So why would Obama get rid of the work requirements? I can think of two reasons – one ideological and the other political.
The ideological reason is that liberals hated welfare reform from Day 1. They predicted it would push millions more children into poverty. When it did exactly the opposite, their hatred was not abated in the slightest. They are convinced that the only way for people to get by is the reliability of a check from the government, and to them, the notion that you would replace this security blanket with this strange thing called a job is simply absurd.
The political reason is cynical but simple. People who depend on the government to be their primary benefactor vote for Democrats. If their dependence is permanent, then they vote Democratic for life. Even if these folks don’t vote, expanding the welfare rolls will allow for the expansion of the programs all across the country – and the newly hired welfare bureaucrats will vote Democratic, because their subsistence is dependent on the government as well.
Ronald Reagan liked to say that he defined compassion not by how many people we help, but by how many people no longer need our help. Obviously, and not surprisingly, Barack Obama’s view is exactly the opposite. The more people who depend on government largesse, and the easier it is for them to get it and keep getting it, the more job security he creates – for himself.
And he’s even willing to grant waivers that the law expressly forbids in order to make it happen.
I wonder what Bill Clinton thinks about what Obama did to one of his most positive achievements. After all, Clinton (who was re-elected the same year he signed welfare reform) worked with a Republican Congress to pass this bill, to cut the capital gains tax and to balance the budget for several years running.
Now the first Democratic president to follow him is undoing all of the above, or trying to. It’s almost enough to make you wonder, when Clinton walks into that voting booth in November and closes the curtain behind him, what he will really do.