GAO: Congress can vote on Obama's welfare changes

Congress can hold votes on President Obama's controversial welfare policy, government investigators said Tuesday.

The decision will allow the GOP to link Democrats to a policy they say "guts" welfare's work requirement. Fact-checking organizations have dismissed this claim, which GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney uses frequently against Obama. 

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The policy means to give states more flexibility in finding work for people on welfare, the administration says.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued its decision in response to requests from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), two of the policy's most prominent critics on Capitol Hill. 

The GAO explained in a legal memo that health officials must submit the policy to Congress because, as a federal rule, it falls under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

"The CRA is intended to keep Congress informed of the rulemaking activities of federal agencies and provides that before a rule can take effect," the GAO said in a statement.

The GAO's decision means regulators must formally submit the policy to both chambers, giving them 60 days to vote on it. Any uniform action by the House and Senate would then go to the White House for the president's signature.

Under the policy, federal waivers would allow states to test new approaches to improving employment among low-income families. In exchange, states would have to prove that their new methods are effective, or lose the waivers.

Federal health officials note that the change comes in response to requests from states — run by both Republicans and Democrats — for more flexibility under former President Clinton's landmark welfare-to-work law. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney himself pushed for similar freedom in administering welfare.

But Republicans strongly object, saying that the new policy will create more dependence on the government and violate the principle behind the law, which is known as TANF. 

Hatch praised today's decision in a statement.

“Circumventing Congress, as this White House has done, is a flagrant abuse of our system of checks and balances and an insult to American taxpayers," he said. "Work requirements were a critical part of the landmark 1996 Welfare Reform law and should not be scrapped by the Obama Administration."