Wall Street Journal
September 11, 2012

Republicans Seek to Block Welfare Change

Congressional Republicans are pushing measures to try to block Obama administration changes to the welfare program that have become a contentious issue on the campaign trail.

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan plan to announce this afternoon they are introducing joint resolutions of disapproval to try to prevent the administration from offering states more flexibility in how they enforce new rules in the cash-assistance program that was introduced as part of a 1996 welfare overhaul.

Republicans have attacked the president over the changes on the campaign trail, saying he is gutting requirements that welfare recipients seek work and that the administration doesn't have the authority to make such changes. Mitt Romney, the GOP presidential nominee, regularly speaks about the requirement in stump speeches.

Federal officials say that they are responding to requests from governors, including Republicans, to have more flexibility so they can run more effective programs.

Lawmakers could block the changes by passing resolutions of disapproval in both chambers of Congress. In the Democratic-controlled Senate, Mr. Hatch only needs to secure support from 29 colleagues for the resolution to proceed, but 51 votes would be needed for it to be debated, and for it to be passed.

Republicans currently have 47 seats and a vote on the issue could put a handful of Senate Democrats in close re-election races in the spotlight. Representatives for Bill Nelson of Florida, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana didn't immediately respond to inquiries about the senators' positions.

The move by Republicans comes a few days after the Government Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog, said the administration's changes should be put to Congress for a vote before taking effect. The administration has said it doesn't believe its changes require congressional approval.

The welfare program has to be reauthorized at the end of the month and this would likely be passed through the continuing resolution to fund federal agencies through the start of the year. Republicans have shown little inclination to make the fight over changes to the work requirements part of that debate.

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