On Thursday, President Obama, through the Department of Health and Human Services, quietly released an official policy directive. Utilizing an obscure legal device from the original Social Security Act, the administration claimed the right to waive the work requirements for able-bodied people that formed the backbone of a generation of welfare reform. This directive could very well allow the welfare state to regress to its bloated worst.
The move is vintage Obama, and it contains several of his administration’s most dubious hallmarks. It is legally suspect, ignoring both the letter of the law and the clear intent of Congress to specifically shield welfare reform from willy-nilly rewriting at the hands of federal bureaucrats. It reflects the administration’s taste for the selective enforcement of the laws it is sworn to uphold. It cements executive orders and policy directives as the legislative instruments du jour, superseding boring, old-fashioned acts of Congress. And it even reminds us how much of the entitlement state now runs through Kathleen Sebelius and HHS.
But as with so much in this administration, the policy is even worse than the process.
After multiple iterations and intense negotiations, the Republican Congress passed, and in 1996 President Clinton signed, a transformational restructuring of the federal welfare state. What had been called “Aid to Families with Dependent Children” (AFDC), a vestige of the New Deal that over the decades had swollen to infamy by incentivizing single-motherhood and out-of-wedlock birth, was replaced with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).