Opening Statement at Markup of H.J. Res 118

Sep 13, 2012


Opening Statement of Ranking Member Sander Levin
Markup of H.J. Res 118
Committee on Ways and Means

(Remarks as Prepared)

Mr. Chairman, this bill is not about process or policy, but politics, pure politics, even worse impure politics. This legislation is an effort to pursue a claim that has been so thoroughly discredited by independent facts checkers: 

As indicated in the slide now on the monitor. says that GOP claims about the Administration’s proposal on waivers: “drastic distortion”, “not accurate” and “pants on fire” false. says of the claims: “distort the truth” and are “simply untrue” 

News organizations have found the basis for the bill before us is completely bogus:

“Welfare Accusations are A Despicable Distortion” The Philadelphia Inquirer 

CNN “Romney's Welfare Claims Wrong.” 

“Romney Ad Is Baloney, County Welfare Official Says.” The Columbus Dispatch

New York Times Editorial “Mr. Romney Hits Bottom on Welfare.”

Richmond Times-Dispatch “New Romney Ad Pushes Debunked Claim Against Obama.” 

Facts are stubborn things, but apparently not as stubborn as the utter willingness of Republicans to ignore them. It raises serious questions as to their motivation on this bill.

We have heard that Republicans don’t like to be dictated to by fact checkers. 

So let’s consider the words of someone who was very involved in the development and enactment of the 1996 welfare reform law. 

The lead Republican staffer working on the 1996 Welfare Reform Bill was Ron Haskins. I served on the Conference Committee. It was a real Conference. 

The issues were difficult and there were disagreements, including how to craft the work requirements and how much flexibility to give to Governors who wanted considerable flexibility. 

Ron was involved in these controversial deliberations.  But no one challenged his knowledge or diligence. 

As indicated on the slide, Ron Haskins said: “I don’t see how you can get to the conclusion that the waiver provision undermines welfare reform.”

He also said: “There is no plausible scenario under which it really constitutes a serious attack on welfare reform.” 

He continues: “First of all, the states have to apply individually for waivers, and they have to explain in detail...why this approach would lead to either more employment or better jobs for people who are trying to stay off welfare or get off welfare.” 

President Clinton was instrumental in bringing about and signing welfare reform into law. He summed up the issue succinctly when he said, “the administration agreed to give waivers to those governors...only if they had a credible plan to increase employment by 20 percent, and they could keep the waivers only if they did increase employment. The requirement was for more work, not less.” 

As I said at the outset this bill is not about process. The majority has suggested that HHS does not have the authority to provide waivers, but a memo from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service says the agency’s action is consistent with prior practice. 

Republicans also have said that HHS didn’t follow a requirement to officially submit the guidance to Congress, but what they fail to mention is there has been a long-standing difference, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, between federal agencies and the GAO as to what actions constitute a rule for the purpose of the Congressional Review Act.  

The purpose of the Obama administration’s proposal was increase the number of people moving from welfare to work. Both Republican and Democratic Governor’s indicated interest in waivers that would help them achieve this very goal. 

It is often said that it is important for people in public office to disagree without being disagreeable, surely a necessity in a Congress so widely criticized by the public. But to make that work, disagreement cannot be a result of one side’s dishonesty. This bill is dishonest. It should be rejected.