There is an old adage that defines insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results." What's worse than insanity is hypocritical insanity, which may be defined as doing the same thing that your opponent did over and over again, while expecting different results. Unfortunately, that is an apt description of the House GOP leadership of late.
During the 2010 elections, Republicans railed against profligate spending, Obamacare, and growing dependency from things like the Stimulus. Now, they are extending and reauthorizing many of those offensive policies. Last April, they continued the entire Democrat 2010 budget with a CR for FY2011 that cut outlays by a miniscule $352 million. This week, they plan to pass a continuing resolution for FY2012 that will authorize more discretionary spending than their own "Ryan budget" by $24 billion. This will pave the road for passage of an omnibus mega-bill in November – the very sort of reckless budgeting that they lampooned throughout the Pelosi years.
Last week, Republicans passed the 22nd short-term extension of surface transportation funding and the 8th stop-gap FAA reauthorization bill. Their tepidness to pick a fight over their own transportation bills has led them to reauthorize Pelosi-era spending levels, along with wasteful public transit and beautification projects that are forced upon the states. Additionally, they are on the cusp of paying Obama ransom for holding three free trade agreements hostage, by reauthorizing the Trade Adjustment Assistance – a superfluous unemployment handout to Big Labor. We must also be vigilant of attempts by leadership to pass parts of Obama’s Stimulus 2.0.
On Wednesday, Republicans will be confronted with another opportunity to reauthorize a welfare program at current levels. Sadly, it appears that leadership will pass it under suspension – without firing a shot.
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program is slated to expire later this month, and Republicans are planning to extend it until the end of the year. TANF is the traditional cash welfare payment that is block granted to the states for low-income families with children. The Feds grant about $17 billion annually to the states, and offer a $2 billion Contingency Fund for states with “special” economic needs.
In 1996, Republicans reformed this program (formerly known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)) to cut perverse financial incentives for states to increase their welfare caseloads. Instead of granting states more funding for increasing their caseloads, the new TANF program offered a flat grant to all states and incentivized them to decrease their caseloads. This provision, along with some accountability measures for recipients, served as the bedrock for what was known as “the welfare reform of the 90s.”
Although Democrats lauded welfare reform as a major public policy breakthrough, and even took credit for its success, they surreptitiously repealed it in the Stimulus bill of 2009. Section 2101 of the Stimulus bill brought back the perverse incentives under AFDC for states to increase their caseloads, by providing them with a $5 billion “Emergency Contingency Fund.”
Accordingly, Republicans must not ram this extension through the House under suspension. Even though they are not reauthorizing the Emergency Contingency Fund, they need to scrutinize the program carefully to ensure that the it is headed on a downward trajectory, is expunged of all post-Stimulus spending, and is restored to the pre-Stimulus accountability regime. A suspension bill is not the way to go.
Instead, Republicans should push Jim Jordan’s Welfare Reform Restoration Act (more information here), which not only restores the ’96 accountability measures to TANF, but applies them to the other 76 welfare programs (yes, you read that correctly). While Republicans might be cagey about tinkering with Social Security and Medicare, they should be eager to pursue welfare reform. It is a proven winner. Moreover, welfare spending is right behind the largest two programs as our biggest expenditure. Social Security will cost $727 billion this year; net Medicare spending will be $492 billion, but Medicaid ($274 billion) and Income Security Programs ($404 billion) will cost us $678 billion. Why not go after the low-hanging fruit?
Republicans must use their mandate. It’s time to stop reauthorizing Democrat failure.