Republican leadership is waging a civil war against conservatives over the budget, due to their visceral fear of a government shutdown. Their inexplicable fixation on the 1995 political paradigm has traumatized them from repeating the alleged mistakes of Newt Gingrich and the 104th congress. Such a one-dimensional focus should logically dictate that we attempt to replicate the successes of that era as well.
While the political liabilities of the '95 government shutdown are debatable, the political successes of welfare reform are incontrovertible. By 1996, Republicans, with the overwhelming support of the public, forced President Clinton to sign the most sweeping welfare reform act in decades.
Unfortunately, the Democrats gutted the most potent accountability mechanisms of the bill with the Obama stimulus in 2009. In addition, the '96 reform bill, imposing work requirements and spending caps, was only applied to 1 of 77 anti-poverty programs. RSC Chairman Jim Jordan has introduced The Welfare Reform Act of 2011 to address these issues.
Here are some of the major provisions:
- The president must include the aggregate federal welfare expenditures in his annual budget, along with estimated costs to state and local governments.
- The bill imposes an overall spending cap on all 77 programs not to exceed 2007 levels adjusted for inflation. The cap would only be triggered once unemployment falls below 6.5%. The cap would be enforced by subjecting anti-poverty programs to multiple constraints of the annual budget resolution, thereby eliminating its status as a permanent entitlement program.
- All food stamp recipients (now over 44 million strong) must be working or preparing for a job.
- The federal government would incentivize states to decrease the number of dependents by offering the most efficient states special grants.
- The legislation prohibits federal funding of abortions through anti-poverty programs.
The welfare reform bill of '95 was a cornerstone of the Contract with America, yet Clinton was forced to acquiesce to its passage as he attempted to triangulate ahead of his reelection. His signing of welfare reform forever emblematized Clinton's so-called political pragmatism. A resurrection of welfare reform would be used as the same standard to which Obama's supposed moderation would be measured. We all know that he will never bring himself to support such legislation. Let's use this opportunity to unite Republicans and isolate Obama from independent voters who are indispensable to his reelection.
If the ghosts of 1995 are dividing us, let us unite by compounding the successes of that same era and pass real welfare reform. Ultimately, we all agree that the goal of obtaining control of government is only to limit it. Or do we?