September 19,2012

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Julia Lawless, Antonia Ferrier, 202.224.4515

Democrats Object to Stopping Obama Administration from Gutting Welfare Work Requirements

WASHINGTON – Today, Senate Democrats blocked consideration of legislation by Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to put a stop to the Obama Administration unilaterally gutting work requirements that are the cornerstone of the landmark bipartisan 1996 welfare reform law.  Earlier today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that no Administration has ever determined that it has the authority to waive these work requirements.  

“Unelected bureaucrats at HHS are attempting to change the law,” said Hatch. “If left unchecked, welfare policy is being substantially changed by the Obama administration in a way that never would have been acceptable to the people’s elected representatives in Congress. No Administration should be permitted to disregard the laws that Congress passed and simply make up their own rules.”

Hatch tried to bring up his Resolution of Disapproval that he introduced last week to block the  Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Informational Memorandum (IM) that would undermine those work requirements potentially allowing for things like bed rest, smoking cessation, and journaling to count as work.  Hatch introduced this resolution after GAO found that what HHS constitutes an agency rulemaking that is subject to congressional review and approval or disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).  

Below is the text of Hatch’s full speech delivered on the Senate floor today:

Mr. President, on July 12, 2012, the Obama Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services issued an Information Memorandum informing states that for the first time in the 16 year history of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, HHS would permit them to waive welfare work requirements.

This action undermines a robust work-first approach that was one of the key features of the 1996 Welfare Reform act.  

If allowed to stand, this action could result in activities such as journaling, bed rest, and smoking cessation classes being counted as work for the purposes of meeting federal welfare work performance standards.

This change in policy presents a serious substantive question.  Should taxpayer dollars go to welfare recipients who are not working, but are instead journaling, or working to quit smoking?

But it presents serious institutional questions as well, because the action by the Obama Administration was, quite simply, a unilateral power grab that usurps the constitutional power of the legislative branch.

That is no small thing.  

Our Constitution, for good reason, locates the lawmaking power in Congress.  That is because our Founding Fathers understood that in a republic of laws, the lawmakers must represent the people directly.  The people must have a close hold on the representatives who create the laws under which we live.

If changes are going to be made to the welfare work requirements, it should be up to the Congress to make them.

Faceless bureaucrats at HHS should not be the ones making changes to the welfare work requirements.

Yet that is exactly what happened here.

Unelected bureaucrats at HHS are attempting to change the law.  If left unchecked, welfare policy is being substantially changed by the Obama administration in a way that never would have been acceptable to the people’s elected representatives in Congress.

No Administration should be permitted to disregard the laws that Congress passed and simply make up their own rules.

For 16 years, no President, Health and Human Services Secretary, or Governor — regardless of political party — believed that welfare work requirements could be waived.

If the Obama Administration believes that welfare work requirements should be changed, they should submit a legislative proposal to Congress.

In the three and a half years before the July 12th Information Memorandum, the Obama Administration never offered a legislative proposal to change the welfare work requirements.

The unprecedented nature of the Obama Administration’s power grab is supported by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office.

On September 4, 2012, the GAO responded to an inquiry from me and Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp.  They determined that the July 12th Information Memorandum was a Rule that should have been submitted to Congress.

GAO further found that, as a Rule, the Information Memorandum was subject to the Congressional Review Act.

The Congressional Review Act provides Congress with an opportunity to review — and where appropriate — disapprove Rules issued by the Executive Branch.

When more and more of the rules that govern the American people are being made by anonymous and unelected bureaucrats with no responsibility to reflect the priorities of the American people, the Congressional Review Act is a critical device.

It allows the people’s representatives in Congress to stand up and reject a rule emanating from the federal bureaucracy.

The Committee on Ways and Means favorably reported a Resolution of Disapproval last week. The full House of Representatives will consider the Resolution of Disapproval this week.

I have introduced S. J. Res 50, a Resolution of Disapproval, here in the Senate.  I am pleased that my legislation is cosponsored by 21 of my colleagues.

The Congressional Review Act also provides for fast track consideration of a Resolution of Disapproval when a Senator has secured at least 30 signatures on a Discharge Petition.

That means no filibuster.

I am pleased to report that I have well over 30 signatures on a Discharge Petition.

Unfortunately, this expedited process does not kick in until later this month.

The Senate will be voting on my resolution.  

There is no question about that.  

The only question is when.

In my view, we should take this matter up now.  

It is a critical issue for the American people.  And it is a critical issue for this institution.  
As the people’s elected representatives, it is a dereliction of duty to stand by while unelected officials attempt to change the law unilaterally, without the constitutionally prescribed input of the people’s representatives in Congress.

For that reason, in a few moments, I will propound a Unanimous Consent request for debate, followed by a vote on proceeding to the Resolution of Disapproval.

Mr. President, it is a simple request. A vote on the Resolution of Disapproval is inevitable.  The only question is whether or not the Majority will allow a vote in a timely manner.