Anyone want to start a pool on how long this story will remain in the news cycle? I give it until tomorrow, personally. I have stated many times that bureaucracy will be the death of us all, and the fact that the real issue can be boiled down to a bureaucratic squabble will be the death of this story. It concerns the celebrated welfare reform of the Clinton era, for which today’s Republicans appear to be taking credit, and how states can or can’t meet its standards. Humorously, the GOP is the party demanding more adherence to federal law in this case.
The reform of the 90s gave block grants to states so they could design their own welfare-to-work programs, provided they met a series of basic requirements. The law requires state case workers to report to the federal government on welfare recipients’ job-finding activities. In a memo, the Obama administration said it would allow individual states to waive the reporting requirements. To hear the likes of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) tell it, you’d think they had rescinded the law altogether, without congressional approval.
Let’s get one thing clear: The provision requiring recipients to begin working within two years of getting their benefits is still intact. The administration has not, in Hatch’s words, “concluded that they have the authority to waive the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) work requirements.” They are waiving elements of the process by which those requirements can be met. This is not a threat to the 90s perspective on what was needed to be conductive to welfare reform.
Even so, the legality of that move is worth questioning, as those reporting requirements were drafted in the legislative branch. Had President Obama sent new legislation changing the reporting requirements, that would be different. Of course, the Republican response to this move has been so disproportional that I wouldn’t have much faith in that process, either.
Nonetheless, the information contained in those reports is integral to determining the size of each state’s block grant, even if that rule pales in comparison to the two-year rule. So this move needs more deliberation, by more people. It’s one thing for Hatch and other Republicans to accuse Obama, falsely, of working around one provision unilaterally. It’s another to demand equal time when it comes to a different, less important provision.
It’s also another thing to speculate that Obama could change any domestic policy he feels like, if this is any precedent. The Constitution allows the president to recommend “necessary and expedient” measures to Congress for consideration. But this is beyond a recommendation – this is selectively editing a domestic law.