From Rhetoric to Reform?: Welfare Policy in American Politics

From Rhetoric to Reform?: Welfare Policy in American Politics

From Rhetoric to Reform?: Welfare Policy in American Politics

From Rhetoric to Reform?: Welfare Policy in American Politics

Synopsis

Cammisa discusses how political rhetoric shapes the debate on welfare policy in the USA, and considers topics such as how welfare became a programme fraught with problems, and why and when welfare was the answer to a problem.

Excerpt

On July 26, 1996, I went to the Capitol Building to watch the Senate vote on the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), the welfare reform bill that had already been approved by the House. the vote was a foregone conclusion. in fact, two very similar bills had already passed the House and Senate but had been vetoed by President Clinton. Since he was sending signals that he might sign the bill, Republicans and Democrats alike wanted to jump on the welfare bandwagon, especially in an election year when it could become a hot-button campaign issue. As I walked to the Senate gallery to watch the historic vote, I happened upon a forlorn Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY). Senator Moynihan is considered an expert on welfare and was instrumental in writing and passing the last version of welfare reform. He is also a difficult person to classify, having been a New Deal Democrat early in his career, later becoming a "neoconservative" who worked on Nixon's welfare reform bill, and now being called one of the last liberals on welfare reform. As I passed him, I said good afternoon, and like the good politician that he is, he stopped and shook my hand. When I thanked him for his efforts on the welfare bill, he looked at me and put his hands in the air. His face betrayed emotion, and he was silent for a moment until he finally mouthed the words "We lost ." a moment later, I was in the visitors' gallery of the Senate, sitting next to a couple of tourists who clapped and cheered quietly (the Senate has rules of decorum that apply even to visitors) every time a senator's remarks mentioned cracking down on welfare cheats. They high-fived when the bill passed.

The conflicting emotions betrayed by the senator and the tourists illustrate the dilemma of welfare reform. Senator Moynihan has gone on record numerous times lamenting the end of the guarantee of government assistance to poor families, a guarantee that has existed since the New Deal and that was eliminated when the prwora was passed. the senator believes that the government has a responsibility to care for its poorest citizens and that the prwora abdicates that responsibility. But the tourists sitting next to me in the gallery were convinced that welfare is a bad program, prone to cheating and abuse. They had no doubt heard from politicians--liberals and conservatives alike--that welfare causes dependency, that welfare recipients find it easier to accept government . . .

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