Economy & Budget

Cruz, Romney campaign discuss welfare requirements

Cruz, Romney campaign discuss welfare requirements

The Romney campaign’s senior adviser, Ed Gillespie, and deputy policy director Jonathan Burks hosted a conference call with Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz on Tuesday morning, to discuss the Obama Administration’s decision to strip the work requirements from bipartisan Clinton-era welfare reforms.

Gillespie explained that such “clear policy differences and approaches to government” between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama would be a major theme of the campaign.  Romney plans to address welfare reform throughout the coming week.  “Governor Romney, as you know, has been talking very much about the Romney plan for a stronger middle class: more take-home pay, and more jobs,” said Gillespie.

He highlighted Obama’s move to undo the highly successful work requirements for welfare as a “sharp contrast” with Romney’s approach, noting that Romney had “strengthened the work requirements for welfare” during his tenure as governor of Massachusetts.

Burks reviewed the two most serious problems with the Administration’s action: it’s legally dubious, since “no previous Administration has seen themselves as having the authority to issue a waiver from this core work requirement,” which was an essential component of the agreement reached between the federal government and the states in the 1996 welfare reform bill; and the “fundamental policy issue,” in which welfare stripped of its work requirements becomes “essentially a blank check from the federal government to the states.”

“Right now we’re engaged in a national debate over Big Government solutions versus individual responsibility,” said Cruz, “and I think this issue powerfully illustrates the difference in approaches between President Obama and Governor Romney.”

Cruz identified “three critical failings” in the Obama Administration’s new policy on welfare.  “Number one, it’s fiscally irresponsible, at a time when our nation has $16 trillion in national debt,” he began.  I later asked if an official estimate of the increased cost for welfare programs after the removal of the work requirement had been computed.  No such estimate has yet been prepared, in part because it’s not yet clear how many state governments will actually issue the work requirement waivers authorized by the Department of Health and Human Services.  However, it has been noted that the total number of welfare recipients has declined by over 60 percent since the 1996 reforms.  A substantial reversal of that trend would likely cost taxpayers a great deal of money.

“Number two, it is yet another action of executive arrogance,” Cruz continued, echoing Banks’ point about the legal questions surrounding the HHS granting waivers to a section of the welfare reform law from which Congress authorized no such exemptions.  “If [President Obama] disagreed with requiring welfare recipients to work, or to seek work, he could have gone to Congress,” said Cruz.  “He could have proposed new legislation.  He could have tried to make the case to the American people.  But he did not do that.  He didn’t try to make the argument to anybody… This is part of a pattern with this Administration, where they believe their own ideology trumps the views of the American people.”

The third failing Cruz perceived in the new welfare policy “is that it hurts the recipients of welfare.”  He went on to explain that “helping those receiving government assistance to get jobs, to stand on their own feet, fundamentally transforms their lives.”

A 2003 Heritage Foundation report emphasized this point, noting that poverty, especially among children and black families, had declined substantially as a result of the reforms.  Black children experienced the greatest decrease in poverty rates.  Hunger among children was greatly reduced.  Also, “the explosive growth of out-of-wedlock childbearing” had come to “a virtual halt.”  All of these trends “greatly exceeded similar trends that occurred in prior economic expansions.”  Meanwhile, employment among some of the most disadvantaged groups, particularly single mothers, increased dramatically.

“We are not doing anyone a favor by giving them welfare in perpetuity and making them dependent on government,” Cruz declared.  “You know, I view this from a very personal perspective.  When my father came as an immigrant to this country at the age of 18, not speaking any English, with nothing but $100 sewn into his underwear… I have many times said, thank God some well-meaning bureaucrat didn’t come to my father, put an arm around him, and say ‘let me make you dependent on government.  Let me give you a government check, and destroy your individual responsibility, your sense of self-worth… let me take you off the path of working toward the American Dream.’”

Cruz noted that the 1996 welfare bill was “a bipartisan reform that nearly all agreed was tremendously successful, and yet the President is gutting that reform – not because it doesn’t work, but precisely because it does work.”  He described it as “a political decision that is pleasing to some of the ideologues in his party, but is sacrificing the welfare of those most vulnerable in society in order to gain a political advantage for President Obama.”

Part of that bipartisanship included the support of President Bill Clinton, who signed the welfare reforms in question, including their pivotal work requirement.  Cruz wryly noted that this apparently makes Bill Clinton “way too conservative” for Barack Obama’s taste.

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