When Bill Clinton is awarded two out of four “Pinocchios” for legitimatizing President Obama’s gutting of welfare’s work requirements as a pro-work move, maybe there’s hope yet for the occasional fact-based assessment of a policy debate from the mainstream media.
The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler finds that the former President stretched the truth in defending the Obama Administration’s move to waive work requirements for able-bodied welfare recipients during his stem-winder in Charlotte.
Kessler reached this conclusion after speaking again with Heritage’s Robert Rector, who first blew the whistle on Obama’s administrative undoing—through previously disallowed waivers—of the 1996 welfare reform law. In his rather thorough “Fact Checker” column last week, Kessler writes:
[T]here is enough uncertainty about how the administration will implement these waivers that it is a stretch for Clinton to declare for certain that a 20 percent threshold [of increased employment] must be met—and to claim that more people will end up working under this new system.
It was helpful that the Post had published an op-ed piece by Rector, headlined “How Obama Has Gutted Welfare Reform,” in the wake of Clinton’s misleading remarks on the “workfare” waivers in his speech.
To recap: On July 12, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a directive gutting the very work requirements in the largest cash-assistance program that had spurred unprecedented reductions in the welfare rolls as millions left the dole for jobs. Under the Obama policy, states could receive waivers inconsistent with the 1996 law’s performance measures. The policy not only undermines the success of those standards, as Rector has written, but violates the letter and intent of the reform law.
As soon as the HHS memo was issued, Rector raised the clarion call that Obama, through stealth, was gutting the law because, [Rector] says, he recognized that ideas—what he labels “loopholes”—that Democrats had been unable to slip into legislation had suddenly been offered to states in the form of waivers.
For states seeking waivers, Kessler agrees with Rector that “the numbers needed to meet the 20-percent target do not appear to be large.” For example, state agencies could win waivers through better record-keeping rather than actual movement of welfare recipients into jobs.
Kessler pointedly notes that the public knows some details only because HHS “came under fire” as Rector was joined by key lawmakers—prominent among them Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Representative Dave Camp (R-MI)—in demanding an explanation. The original HHS memo, Kessler writes, was “significantly weaker” in addressing employment requirements, time limits, and other bothersome particulars:
Given the long history of the two sides battling over the implementation of the 1996 law, critics certainly have a right to be wary about why the administration acted in the way it did.… We wavered on the number of Pinocchios in this instance. But we finally settled on two, mainly because Clinton, in his facile way, made this intense debate appear as if it is mainly a dispute about moving “folks from welfare to work.” It is not quite so simple as that, and neither is it clear yet that the net result is that more people on welfare will end up working.
Almost every other fact-checker of today’s run-and-gun media has refused to take a hard look at how the Obama Administration—like a recidivist bank robber caught in the vault, to use Rector’s memorable analogy—is poised to pillage welfare reform. They decline to interview Rector, who helped make the work requirements waiver-proof.
So hats off to Kessler for his willingness to go where the facts take him. Others interested in pursuing the facts where they lead will be interested in an event held at Heritage today called “Checking the Facts on the Obama Administration’s Welfare Reform Waivers.” It featured remarks by Hatch, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, as well as Rector and two other authorities on welfare reform: author/blogger Mickey Kaus and Manhattan Institute scholar Kay Hymowitz. Watch the video of the panel here.
Speaking of the facts, perhaps Friday’s rebuttal by Heritage’s Andrew Grossman of the Congressional Research Service’s “bungling” analysis of the legality of the Administration’s edict will prove to be helpful reading for the fact-checkers. Among them is Ezra Klein, Kessler’s colleague at the Post who has yet to give that flawed document the clear-eyed scrutiny it deserves.