House bill blocking welfare changes goes to markup

Two House committees will mark up a bill Thursday meant to block the Obama administration's controversial changes to welfare.

The move comes a week after government investigators concluded the House and Senate could vote on the changes, which Republicans say "gut" welfare's work requirement. Fact-checking organizations have challenged this claim, which GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has used to hit President Obama.

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

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The House resolution comes from Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) — the House's most prominent critic of the new welfare policy. It answers Republican governors' requests for more flexibility under the landmark 1996 welfare-to-work law which produced the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF).

The bill's co-authors are Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who leads the conservative Republican Study Committee.

Camp's and Kline's committees will both hold markups on the resolution Thursday.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced a companion resolution in the upper chamber Tuesday. 

On a call with reporters, he said that the new policy creates a "slippery slope" for the executive branch to modify Medicare and Medicaid without congressional approval. 

"I've got my pocket constitution right here to remind you all that the power to make laws lies with the legislative branch," Hatch said. "It appears that this administration doesn't think it has to live by these constitutional constraints." 

Camp, who was also on the call, said he anticipates a floor vote on the House resolution "in the days following committee action" Thursday. Camp also predicted that Democrats would join Republicans in a vote to oppose the waivers. 

Responding to the resolutions, Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) implied that Republicans are manipulating stereotypes about welfare as they hammer Obama on the waivers. This argument has been echoed by many Romney critics who charge that the former governor's focus on the welfare issue is a bid for the votes of white, working-class voters who associate welfare with African Americans. 

"Republican and Democratic governors alike have requested state flexibility through waivers issued by [the Department of Health and Human Services]," Levin, the ranking member on Ways and Means, said in a statement. 

"I supported the welfare reform law and have worked to make it more effective including by pressing states, as these waivers do, to move more people into jobs. Republicans are using a totally discredited claim to manipulate a stereotype about welfare, calling into question their underlying motivation." 

Levin also pointed to a new review by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service that defended HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's authority to issue waivers within the TANF program. The review also stated that depending on the waivers issued, Sebelius's actions could be challenged in court.

House conservatives were surprised to find out Monday that the six-month continuing resolution, which keeps the government open after Oct. 1, also contains a six-month extension of TANF.

Some GOP members had wanted a separate extension bill that also contained the resolution blocking the TANF waivers. Because the welfare law expires this month, combining the bills would have given the House leverage over the Democratic Senate to try to force it to accept the disapproval resolution.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said the surprise change could force him to vote against the spending bill, which he was already uncomfortable with due to its level of spending.

He said that with welfare already extended, the separate bill on the waivers would not get enacted.

"The bill is going nowhere," he said.

It remains to be seen if conservatives will rebel against the continuing resolution over the welfare issue.

Congress can express disapproval of the welfare policy under the Congressional Review Act, the Government Accountability Office ruled last week.

That 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.