House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) released a "discussion draft" today outlining a "Agenda for New Opportunity" designed to "make federal aid more accountable and more effective."
The centerpiece of Ryan's proposal is a new "Opportunity Grant" pilot program which would allow states to consolidate a slew of federal welfare programs into one coordinated plan.
To qualify for an Opportunity Grant, states would have to submit "a concrete plan to develop a new aid program" to the federal government.
The federal government would then have the power to approve or deny states plans based on four criteria, including: 1) "the plan must demonstrate how the funds would be used to move people out of poverty and into independence"; 2) the plan "would have to require all able-bodied recipients work or engage in work-related activities"; 3) the plan "would need to use some funds from the consolidated programs to encourage new approaches by innovative groups as well as non-governmental organizations"; and 4) "the state and federal government would have to agree on measures of success and evaluation by a third party."
These all sound like fabulous good government requirements. And as long as someone both slept through the Obama presidency and knows nothing about how administrative law works, they might sound like a basis for conservative reform.
Unfortunately, however, we live in a world where presidents use and abuse every grant of power from Congress to control and weaken states. And the Ryan plan would only make it easier for future presidents to do that.
True, Ryan's Opportunity Grant program would be voluntary... at first, but so was Medicaid. Eventually all the states signed up for that program and the federal government has been using it as leverage ever since.
The same would happen with the Opportunity Grant program. Let's say Texas got an Opportunity Grant program approved in year one. Well, eventually that plan would need to be renewed, but only after Texas had reorganized its entire social safety net delivery system.
Now the next president would have Texas dead to rights. He (or probably she) could demand Opportunity Grant funding go to progressive activist groups like La Raza or Casa de Maryland. The president could gut the program's work requirements or change the definition of "work-related activities." Or the president could insist on hostile third party evaluators who would push for more progressive big government solutions.
We've seen President Obama do something very similar with the No Child Left Behind law. He has used that programs waiver process in an unprecedented way to force big government Common Core curriculum and conservative states that don't want it.
Ryan's Opportunity Grants would eventually be used by progressive presidents in the exact same way.