A Muted Welfare Debate

Article excerpt


The historic welfare-reform bill passed in 1996 by a Republican-controlled Congress and signed by President Clinton during the summer of that year's presidential campaign will expire Sept. 30. Thus, Congress and the Bush administration are now working to re-authorize welfare-reform legislation. The White House submitted its bill to Congress in late February.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who as governor of Wisconsin led the states in reforming welfare, will be the administration's point man. Mr. Thompson testified last week before the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee. In both settings, Mr. Thompson was sharply criticized by Democrats, who complained that the administration's proposal to increase the work requirement for welfare recipients failed to include sufficient funding to pay for child-care expenses.

The first thing to note about this dispute is how different it is from the debate that occurred in 1996 between liberal Democrats, on the one hand, and Republicans and moderate Democrats, on the other. Six years ago, liberal Democrats in Congress and their allies from self-styled child-advocacy interest groups relentlessly predicted utterly apocalyptic consequences from the welfare-reform legislation that eventually became law.

Then-Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who should have known better, called the reform law "the most brutal act of social policy since reconstruction." Marian Wright Edelman, who as the president of the Children's Defense Fund has never known any better, declared that Mr. Clinton's signature on the law "will leave a moral blot on his presidency and on our nation." Her husband, Peter Edelman, who resigned in protest from his high-level job at the Health and Human Services Department, called the new law "awful" policy and predicted it would do "serious injury to American children." Then-Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun asserted that the bill would "do actual violence to poor children, putting millions of them into poverty who were not in poverty before." Needless to say, the Democratic congressional leadership, including Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, opposed the bill. …