In a period of time when the Democrats appeared as if they had a lock on Congress, the late Robert B. Carleson approached me: Would I agree to hire him as a Free Congress Foundation Adjunct Scholar to work on welfare reform if Richard M. Scaife would fund it. Bob Carleson had extraordinary credentials. He had been the architect of Governor Ronald Reagan's welfare reform in California. Reagan managed significantly to cut welfare rolls while increasing support for those who really needed help. It was Carleson's formula which finally persuaded sufficient Democrats in the California General Assembly to back the program that it moved forward.
Casper N. Weinberger was then working for the Nixon Administration. He knew of Carleson's abilities. They had worked together in California. So Weinberger, then known as "Cap the Knife," made Carleson Commissioner of Welfare. Carleson began welfare reform in the Nixon Administration but Nixon was upended after Watergate. Less than a decade later Ronald Reagan was in the White House and Bob Carleson worked inside the Reagan Administration, both at Health and Human Services and the White House, to craft President Reagan's welfare reform. The Congress was not kind to Reagan's welfare approach. But Dick Scaife was sympathetic and thus began the long relationship between Carleson and the Free Congress Foundation.
Carleson kept plugging away. He held private meetings with the Senate Finance Committee to educate Senators as to how the system really worked. Likewise, he briefed moderate Democrats and most Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee. They all told Bob to forget it. For the most part they were resigned to ever increasing welfare rolls, bringing ever increasing welfare costs.
Then came the unforeseeable earthquake. Republicans took over both Houses of Congress. Even the House went strongly Republican. In the first Congress of the Clinton Administration Republicans had formed a working group on welfare, chaired by Representative, now Senator, James Talent (R-MO). Carleson worked feverishly with that group to advocate the correct approach to welfare reform - namely, giving block grants to the states for AFDC and giving them wide latitude in writing their own regulations. Carleson worked extremely hard to counter those conservatives and Republicans who wanted to write national regulations. Carleson understood that in an unsympathetic Administration rules would be promulgated which would destroy any effective approach to welfare reform. Some in the conservative movement labeled this a sell-out and fought Bob both in private and even in public. He held his ground and we were pleased to back him up.
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