When I went to Congress in 1993, the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program then in place - although certainly well- intentioned - had become a stumbling block for lower-income Americans, because it allowed people to collect welfare indefinitely but only if they met three conditions: They had to (1.) raise small children, (2.) without being married, and (3.) without ever getting a job.
It was obvious to me that the welfare system was abusing the very people it was supposed to help. Historically, the two best antipoverty programs are work and marriage, and our welfare system conditioned assistance to impoverished people on them doing neither.
I have two teenage daughters. Raising them (and my son) was a humbling experience for my wife and me. Parenting taught me that life is complicated. But this much I know: If my daughters were struggling, the one thing I would not do is tell them I would support them indefinitely - but only as long as they continued bearing children without having either a husband or a job.
That's the reason then-Congressman Tim Hutchinson and I introduced the Real Welfare Reform Act of 1994. It was the blueprint for the work requirements enacted on a bipartisan basis in the historic 1996 welfare reform law.
Our legislation gave the states discretion in how they operated the welfare system, subject to one requirement: They had to get people working. The bill was not onerous. It only required that 50 percent of able-bodied people on welfare do some kind of real work or worker training. Because the bill only applied to half the welfare caseload, no waivers were permitted.
Congressman Hutchinson and I - and all the sponsors of welfare reform - made the deliberate decision not to allow the Department of Health and Human Services to grant waivers from the work requirements in the bill. …