The House Ways and Means Committee passed a resolution today that would overturn the Administration’s new welfare waiver policy under an oversight law called the Congressional Review Act. Another vote is expected in the House Education and the Workforce Committee later today, at which point the resolution could head to the floor of the House. This takes an issue that became a centerpiece of the Presidential election, with Mitt Romney’s campaign claiming (falsely) that the President “removed the work requirement for welfare,” and puts it squarely into Congress.
In 1996, Congress changed welfare from an open-ended entitlement to a limited federal block grant, adding time limits for beneficiaries and requiring states to ensure that a percentage of recipients work. Republicans contend that President Barack Obama “gutted welfare” reform by waiving the work requirement, and that his administration did so illegally.
“As one of the authors of that bill, I can tell you that we purposefully drafted the law to ensure that work requirements couldn’t be waived because of their importance in moving individuals from welfare to work,” Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in his opening statement.
Democrats accused Republicans of pushing the bill just to stoke Republican voters. “This is part of the Ryan-Romney PR campaign up here today,” Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) said.
Here is the text of the resolution. Under the Congressional Review Act, Congress can issue a resolution of disapproval against regulations over which it has CRA oversight. The Government Accountability Office cleared the way for this resolution in a ruling a couple weeks back, although the Congressional Research Service argued that the Health and Human Services Department had the authority to make the waiver changes. Nevertheless, House Republicans went ahead with the resolution of disapproval. It’s pretty straightforward:
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled:
That Congress disapproves the rule submitted by the Office of Family Assistance of the Administration for Children and Families of the Department of Health and Human Services relating to waiver and expenditure authority under section 1115 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1315) with respect to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (issued July 12, 2012, as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Information Memorandum Transmittal No. TANF–ACF–IM–2012–03, and printed in the Congressional Record on September 10, 2012, on pages S6047–S6050, along with a letter of opinion from the Government Accountability Office dated September 4, 2012, that the Information Memorandum is a rule under the Congressional Review Act), and such rule shall have no force or effect.
I would expect this to get a vote in the House by next week. The Senate can bottle it up for a time in committee, but a discharge petition signed by only 30 Senators can get it out of committee and onto a floor vote after 20 days. That wouldn’t happen until after the elections, as Congress won’t be in session that long.
Democrats on the Education and the Workforce Committee argue that Republicans already voted to “allow states to ignore welfare’s work requirements.” They claim that back in June the committee’s Republicans voted for reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act which allows states this flexibility. The Congressional Research Service provided a memo on the Republican bill that agreed with this claim, based on the fact that states could consolidate funds to segregate them from the work requirements.
I’m not super-interested in the debate over who allows cutting work requirements and why. The point here is that House Republicans have taken a President campaign debate which most independent fact checkers have shown to be false, and will now extend that debate to the House floor. It shows the political potency of welfare, and how it will get used in the November elections.