WASHINGTON -- Taking up a cause loudly supported by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, a committee in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a Republican bill that would stop the Obama administration from giving states more flexibility in running their welfare programs.
In 1996, Congress changed welfare from an open-ended entitlement to a limited federal block grant, adding time limits for beneficiaries and requiring states to ensure that a percentage of recipients work. Republicans contend that President Barack Obama "gutted welfare" reform by waiving the work requirement, and that his administration did so illegally.
"As one of the authors of that bill, I can tell you that we purposefully drafted the law to ensure that work requirements couldn't be waived because of their importance in moving individuals from welfare to work," Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in his opening statement.
Democrats accused Republicans of pushing the bill just to stoke Republican voters. "This is part of the Ryan-Romney PR campaign up here today," Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) said.
Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), the highest-ranking Democrat on the committee, said, "This bill is not about process or policy, but politics, pure politics, even worse, impure politics. This legislation is an effort to pursue a claim that has been so thoroughly discredited by independent facts checkers."
While the Romney campaign has falsely claimed work requirements have already been dropped, the requirements remain in place. In July, the administration said it would consider waiving some federal rules if states had ideas for "demonstration projects" that could improve employment outcomes for beneficiaries. Several states -- including two with Republican governors -- had requested flexibility from requirements in welfare, formally known as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. No waivers have been issued yet, and the administration insists it would only issue waivers for demonstration projects that put more people to work.
Congressional Republicans had a narrower focus on Thursday. Their legislation asserts that the Obama administration does not have the authority to offer waivers without congressional approval, which is a matter of debate.
The Government Accountability Office has said the Obama administration should have brought the waiver proposal to Congress first. But the Congressional Research Service reported that the administration was within its authority and had acted according to precedent.