House Republicans advanced legislation Thursday to block the Obama administration’s new welfare waivers policy, providing Mitt Romney more running room to use the issue against President Obama as Election Day nears.
The GOP-led Ways & Means Committee and Education & Workforce Committee cleared the bill on party line votes.
W&M Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) denounced the administrative waivers — which tweak the 1996 law’s work requirements to let states test alternative ways to move people from welfare to work — as both unwise and unlawful.
“Today’s vote in the Ways and Means Committee moves us one step closer to stopping the Obama Administration’s illegal attempts to undermine the requirement that able-bodied adults work in order to receive welfare benefits,” he said. “I expect the House to vote on this in the coming days and urge the Senate to take up this resolution, pass it, and send it to the President’s desk.”
The bill is set to pass the House but die in the Democratic-led Senate.
Obama and his allies view the Republican effort as a cynical and dishonest political ploy to paint the president handing out welfare checks to undeserving recipients — a portrayal Romney has advanced in multiple attack ads in swing states.
In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services has said the waivers will not be granted — or will be stripped — unless states can demonstrate that the steps they’ve taken have moved an additional 20 percent of people from welfare to work. The concept of state flexibility has been championed by Republican governors, although they have sought to change the policy through Congress as opposed to administrative fiat.
“Facts are stubborn things, but apparently not as stubborn as the utter willingness of Republicans to ignore them,” said Ways & Means Ranking Democrat Sander Levin (MI) at the hearing, spotlighting scores of media reports that the premise of the Republican claim is false. “It raises serious questions as to their motivation on this bill.”
The Republican presidential nominee has faced withering criticism over the welfare attacks, including from fact-checkers and mainstream journalists, some of whom have also accused him of exploiting racial divisions within the electorate. His pollsters have said the ad is among the campaign’s most effective.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.