House GOP looks to block Obama rule making it easier to receive welfare

Republicans blasted the HHS memo as a move to reverse the 1996 welfare reform bill that they say has reduced the number of people receiving welfare, and has reduced poverty among single mothers by 30 percent. Republicans also say there is no wiggle room under current law to waive the requirement to look for work.

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"It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that the Obama administration has refused to withdraw their illegal 'guidance' undermining the critical welfare work requirements," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said last week. "As the economy continues to struggle under the president's policies, we must not make things worse by undoing a program that has been essential in moving individuals from welfare to work."

But Democrats argue that the waiver is meant to give states the flexibility to put in place innovative welfare-to-work plans. They have also pointed out that the HHS memo is not a blanket waiver from current rules, but instead is one that would be used only when states are looking to try new ideas to move people to employment.

"According to the agency memorandum, and I quote once again, 'HHS will only consider approving waivers relating to the work participation requirements that make changes intended to lead to more effective means of meeting the work goals of TANF,' " House Education and the Workforce Committee ranking member George Miller (D-Calif.) said last week during the committee's markup of the resolution.

The Government Accountability Office has determined that the HHS memo is a rule, and that makes it subject to congressional oversight under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Under the CRA, administration rules can be overturned by a resolution of disapproval, although this resolution must be passed by both the House and the Senate. Republicans are also hoping to force a vote in the Senate, although that might happen after the November election, if at all.

Senate Finance Committee ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said last week that until the Obama administration's memo, no one ever believed the 1996 welfare requirements could be waived. He also called on the Senate to pass the disapproval resolution, and said failure to do so would allow the administration to override the 1996 law without any input from Congress.

"If the Senate does not speak with one unified voice on this issue, then I firmly believe we will have forfeited our relevance in future debates over welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, foster care and Social Security," he said. "If any administration can capriciously deign themselves to have unlimited waiver authority over anything mentioned in provisions referred to in Section 1115, then the United States Senate is, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant."

Along with the Education and the Workforce Committee, Ways and Means also approved the disapproval resolution last week, a move that Camp said is a step toward stopping the "illegal" HHS memo.

"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," Camp said.

The House returns for work on Wednesday, and is expected to pass the resolution of disapproval Thursday or Friday.

— This story was updated at 9:31 a.m. and again at 10:53 a.m.