Obama and Welfare Reform: Gutting Bill Clinton’s Best Legacy?

Mickey Kaus has been writing about it: Obama weakens welfare reform (again):

Here are some quick initial reactions to the administration’s apparent surprising (and possibly illegal) attempt to grant waivers of the work requirements written, after great effort, into the 1996 welfare reform law. I’m posting Thursday night; the story should break for real tomorrow (Friday). This will be updated over the next few days if possible.

Well, the story has broken, indeed, and you should go read Mickey’s whole post in order to get a sense of what this latest Imperial President move means. For instance:

Rector and Bradley of Heritage (among the first to attack Obama’s action) make the case that the law’s work requirements were specifically designed to not be waivable, and that Obama is using HHS’s authority to waive state reporting requirements as a tricky way of voiding the underlying substantive requirements that are to be reported about. The Heritage argument–that what HHS did was illegal–seems powerful, but I haven’t read the other side’s brief. Perhaps Obama is invoking the long-lost “we can’t wait” clause to enact a change that would never pass a democratically elected Congress–in this case not because Congress is “gridlocked” and and “dysfunctional” and “partisan” but because relaxing work requirements has never been popular with voters, even during less partisan and gridlocked times, even in the swingin’ 60s (also not in the 30s, the 40s, the 50s, the 70s, the 80s, the 90s and the 00s)..

Once again, it is astonishing how much power has been given to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius — the woman who confesses to not thinking of “constitutional nuances” while wielding that power. Notes Kaus:

Souljah Opening Available: Obama could turn the HHS rule into a big political plus if he dramatically ordered Secretary Sebelius to withdraw it, saying he wanted to encourage people to work, not go on the dole. But that’s not his style.

I have to wonder how Bill Clinton feels about this. Clinton, after all, was the guy who said, “flick of the wrist, law of the land, pretty cool, eh”? Will he appreciate another Democrat president, one seemingly willing to do anything to be re-elected — take the spine out of what is quite possibly Bill Clinton’s Best Legacy?

Bill Clinton might have vetoed the GOP-written welfare reform several times before finally –- in an election year –- signing the legislation, but he signed it. Amid all of the predictions of gloom and doom, the certainty of the left that the world would end should welfare-as-we-then-knew-it be updated and reformed, Clinton signed.

The world did not end. What ended was the seeming-entrenchment of whole groups of people, of all ethnic backgrounds, into a hopeless dependence upon the government which led nowhere, gave no promise, encouraged no future, thwarted dreams and individual potential, and perpetuated the whole idea of helplessness, of inability, of needing a caretaker.

Why did welfare reform work? Perhaps when people were liberated from the shackles of socially-engineered government dependence, when they were freed from the quicksand and muck of “Free Government Cheese” and able to move to the higher ground of “Unleashed Potential,” they grew in self-respect, self-confidence and – most importantly – in hope. The message “you can, if you try” was a louder, clearer and more spiritually sustaining message than “you can’t, so just give up”
The reformation of our Welfare system, which in the early 1990’s was burgeoning out of control, became a pushback against what President Bush has called “the soft racism of low-expectations,” and the long-term effect of that pushback is not surprising. Encouragement will always trump condescension, and the fisherman who catches his own supper will always feel better about himself than the man who begs the scraps.

When folks –- any folks, of any background — are using their own gifts and ingenuity to make their way, they have reason to hold up their heads, to defer failure and to pursue their dreams and goals . . . When people feel good about what they are doing, when they feel like they have some control over the direction their lives take – they have hope. And hope is not simply a feeling. Hope says, “awake, O Sleeper, arise from death!” Hope is the builder of bridges, the tamer of winds, the harnesser of ideas and possibilities. A poor man with hope is immeasurably richer than a wealthy man without it, because he carries within him the spark that can alight a thousand tomorrows.

By the curb, toward the edge of the flagging,
A knife-grinder works at his wheel, sharpening a great knife;
Bending over, he carefully holds it to the stone—by foot and knee,
With measur’d tread, he turns rapidly—As he presses with light but firm hand,
Forth issue, then, in copious golden jets,
Sparkles from the wheel.
– Walt Whitman “Sparkles from the Wheel”

Hope sparkles from the wheel, and all possibility is contained therein. And the man who can sharpen his own knife, and teach his children that craft, will never be helpless or hungry or cast aside as worthless. He will, therefore, be at peace, and so will his house, and columnists will write about it in wonder.
President Bill Clinton signed welfare reform into law. And it has been a good thing, a better thing – perhaps – than many of us even realize. Whether Clinton will claim this legacy, however, is questionable. After all, the success of Welfare Reform has only proved – once again – that the helping hand of necessary, but structured, social aid can uplift and encourage, while the hand-out of creeping socialism can only deplete and depress our human spirit, drive and ingenuity. It is a legacy of which any conservative would be proud.

And the Democrats, since they’ve gotten back in power, have talked like nothing but good socialists. Claiming Clinton’s legacy would spoil the whole script.

So, they’ll just gut his legacy, then.

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  • dry valleys

    The problem is that welfare “reform” was introduced at a time when there was an allegedly boming economy, although we now know that it was built on sand. It might have seemed to work in 1996, but what about 2012? There are, for instance, the millions of long-term unemployed who will now be destitute unless their benefits are extended. And there hasn’t been a mass outbreak of idleness in the past 5 years, there’s been an unravelling of the so-called prosperity of the 1990s.

    And this is another excellent reason to fault Clinton for his centrism, in that he utterly failed to see that neoliberalism was not going to deliver endless growth as he’d assumed (so, in fairness, did almost everyone- I did until 2008 as well).

    That’s before you even get to the fact that interventions like Obama’s limited stimulus can lead to employment, and if he’d had the chance to go further in that direction it would have accomplished more. You can’t very well require people to look for work when there aren’t enough jobs for all of them to do and won’t be under this system, and “austerity” makes the situation even worse, as it has done in every European country where it’s imposed.

  • http://www.patheos.com Amy

    Giving up one’s personal responsibilty to someone else has and continues to be the mantra of a society who has lost it soul, its reason, its acceptance that governement is the religion they prefer to bow to, to submit to.
    From The author of “Toxic Charity” Robert Lupton, he writes,” Limit one way giving to emergency situations.” Recognize the procession – ‘Give once and you elicit appreciation. Give twice and you create anticipation. Give three times and you create expectation. Give four times and it becomes entitlement. Give five times and you establish dependancy.” The government and well meaning christian organizations have truly created entitlement and dependancy among the poor. I recommend his book to all, including our elected representatives and charitable organizations within our churches. Common sense, dignity and self worth are real. They can be attained if we can focus on a new Christlike vision. Anyone else familiar with his book?

  • Will

    Based on Fox News, the administration is allowing states to apply for waivers of certain requirements. This would give states more flexibility, for example in allowing clients to use school or school and work to count towards what might now be a work requirement.

    There is a federal five-year lifetime maximum limit on TANF (Temporary Aid for Needy Families, formerly ADC, or cash assistance). Many states have lower limits between two and four years.