For Immediate Release
July 16, 2012
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Hatch: White House Guts Bipartisan Welfare Reforms with ‘Stroke of a Pen’

In Speech Utah Senator Says, “I will shortly be introducing legislation to halt this risky scheme to gut welfare reform. Nothing less than the constitutional viability of the Congress is at stake.”

WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor today, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, slammed the Obama Administration for circumventing Congress to gut commonsense, bipartisan welfare reforms with the “stroke of a pen” and announced his intent to introduce legislation to combat the action.

“In essence, by the stroke of a pen — and against the clear intent of bipartisan majorities of the American people, Congress, and the law itself — President Obama’s administration has attempted to undo welfare reform, one of the signature bipartisan policy achievements of the last 20 years,” said Hatch.

Last week the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued new guidance to unilaterally grant itself the authority to exempt states from the work requirements that were a critical element of welfare reform and that could allow states to allow things like bed rest, smoking cessation and exercise to count as a work activity to receive these government benefits.
“The Obama Administration, through this waiver scheme, is attempting to unilaterally disarm the Legislative Branch of the Government and accomplish by Executive fiat what they never even attempted to do through the regular legislative process,” said Hatch. “This Administration has consistently demonstrated a flagrant disregard for the constitutionally mandated co-equal branch of Government known as the Legislative Branch.  This is but the latest in a series of decisions that demonstrate the administration’s sheer arrogance in attempting to bypass Congress without legal warrant.”

Hatch concluded, “I will shortly be introducing legislation to halt this risky scheme to gut welfare reform.  Nothing less than the constitutional viability of the Congress is at stake.”

Below are Hatch’s full remarks delivered on the Senate floor this afternoon:  

In essence, by the stroke of a pen — and against the clear intent of bipartisan majorities of the American people, Congress, and the law itself — President Obama’s administration has attempted to undo welfare reform, one of the signature bipartisan policy achievements of the last 20 years.

Nearly 16 years ago on August 22, 1996, after two vetoes, then President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act — otherwise known as welfare reform.  This landmark legislation, the product of a Republican controlled Congress, ended the entitlement to welfare and replaced it with a block grant to the states.  This block grant, known as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — or TANF — provided states with unprecedented control over welfare programs, in exchange for meeting federal work standards.  

Since the enactment of welfare reform, welfare caseloads have dropped dramatically.   Families receiving welfare have dropped by nearly 60 percent.

Welfare reform remains popular and is often cited as on the most significant domestic policy accomplishment in decades.  The core philosophy behind welfare reform is the emphasis on work and moving from dependency to self-sufficiency.  

Despite the popularity of welfare reform, programs created under TANF have languished.  As more states were able to get credit towards the federal work requirement based on the declining caseloads, TANF increasingly became less of a welfare-to-work program and more of a funding stream to prop up other social programs.

In 2005, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office reported that several states listed as part of their definition of a “federal work activity” under TANF the following:

1.    Bed rest
2.    Personal care activities
3.    Massage
4.    Exercise
5.    Journaling
6.    Motivational reading
7.    Smoking cessation
8.    Weight loss promotion
9.    Participating in parent teacher meetings
10.    Helping a friend or relative with household tasks and errands

The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which then Senator Barack Obama opposed, attempted to re-focus state efforts on getting individuals engaged in work and closing these work activity loopholes.  The funding authority for TANF expired at the end of fiscal year 2010.

The Obama Administration has not proposed a comprehensive reauthorization of TANF, and TANF has continued under a series of stop-gap extensions.

Late last week, the Obama Administration quietly released “guidance” to the states, informing them that the Administration had granted itself authority to waive work requirements in TANF, “including definitions of work activities and engagement, specified limitations, verification procedures and the calculation of participation rates.”

In the 16 years since the creation of TANF no Administration has concluded that they have the authority to waive TANF work requirements.  The provision in the Social Security Act, Section 1115, which allows certain waivers, does not cite the section of the law that includes the TANF work requirements.  In an attempt to justify their waiver scheme, the Obama Administration cites a reference in Section 1115 to a provision dealing with a TANF state plan.  Because the state plan section refers to the work requirements, according to the Obama Administration, this allows them to waive TANF work requirements.  

Mr. President, if this sketchy logic is allowed to stand, a case could be made that there is virtually no domestic social program whose rules and protections cannot be waived.  For example, since Medicaid is referred to in Section 1115 and since the foster care programs are referred to the Medicaid statute, a case could be make that under the Administration’s sketchy logic, the protections for children in foster care could be waived.

This executive overreach is a very serious matter with major long range implications. The Obama Administration, through this waiver scheme, is attempting to unilaterally disarm the Legislative Branch of the Government and accomplish by Executive fiat what they never even attempted to do through the regular legislative process.

Mr. President, this Administration has consistently demonstrated a flagrant disregard for the constitutionally mandated co-equal branch of Government known as the Legislative Branch.  This is but the latest in a series of decisions that demonstrate the administration’s sheer arrogance in attempting to bypass Congress without legal warrant.

And to be clear, disregard of Congress’ power to make the laws under which we live, is disregard for the American people. The essence of Republican government is that the American people have a say in what the laws are.

That say comes through their elected representatives, not through some unelected bureaucrat putting out guidance that is in flat contradiction to the wishes of the people’s representatives and the clear text of the law that is supposedly being enforced.

Ours is a government of laws, not of men.   But with this action, the administration has shown that it will not let the constitutional prerogatives of Congress or the actual intent of the law stand in the way of their policy goals.

We cannot let this stand. I for one, have no intention of letting this stand. 

I will shortly be introducing legislation to halt this risky scheme to gut welfare reform.  I urge my colleagues to stand with me.   Nothing less than the constitutional viability of the Congress is at stake. I thank the Chair and yield the floor.

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