Statement on GOP Bill to Limit State Flexibility on TANF

Mar 13, 2013

 

Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI) today made the following statement on the House floor in opposition to H.R. 890, a Republican bill to limit state flexibility in administering TANF:

Bringing up this bill today is doubly unfortunate. Number one, this is a time when we should be coming together, or at least trying to. This is a time when we should not try some partisan efforts. Unfortunately that's what this is all about. This is essentially a pure fabrication. Last summer the Administration came forth with a proposal. States would be allowed to apply for waivers and have some flexibility in terms of the application of the work requirements. Not the end of them or changing them, but the implementation of them, provided any project would be required to increase employment by at least 20%. So this claim that what is being done here is an effort to put at risk the work requirements is fallacious. 

What happened? After the HHS announcement, the Romney campaign decided they might have a campaign issue. So they essentially put together a campaign ad with the fallacious claim that what the Obama administration was trying to do was to weaken welfare reform. The instantaneous reaction of fact checkers was four Pinocchios, pants on fire, complete untruth. And what was said by Ron Haskins, the Republican person on the staff most involved with the chairman and myself, this is what he had to say. The idea that the administration is going to try to overturn welfare reform is ridiculous. 

States have to apply individually for waivers and they have to explain in detail why the approach would lead to either more employment or better jobs for people who are staying off welfare. And indeed earlier in 2005, 29 Republican governors wrote asking if they could obtain a waiver in terms of the implementation of the work requirements. And on three occasions, the Republicans brought legislation to the floor that would have brought about this kind of a waiver. And here's what was said by President Clinton who worked on welfare reform and signed it in 1996. I quote, when some Republican governors asked if they could have waivers to try new ways to put people on welfare back to work, the Obama administration listened, and I insert at this point, there is a request from the Republican governor of Utah. And I continue with the quote -- because we all know that it is hard for even people with good work histories to get jobs today -- so moving folks from welfare to work is a real challenge and the administration agreed to give waivers to those governors and others only if they had a credible plan to increase employment by 20% and they could keep the waivers only if they did increase employment. Now, did I make myself clear, the former president said. The requirement was for more work, not less. 

So this was tried last year. And what they wanted to do was to reaffirm or to support a political ad by their candidate for president. That's what that was all about. And we had a vote along partisan lines, and as we said it, went nowhere in the Senate. And by the way, I don't think it helped their presidential candidate. It was so blatantly false, so patently political. The election's over. The people have spoken. The president has been re-elected. So why bring up this political horse? It's worse than lame. It's mistaken.