WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans on Thursday followed up Mitt Romney's remarks about people who get federal aid with a bill that would reverse what they call President Barack Obama's relaxation of welfare-to-work requirements.
The House, on a mainly party-line 250-164 vote, passed a resolution that would force the administration to rescind new guidelines giving states more flexibility in how they administer the nation's main welfare program. The vote coincides with a torrent of Republican campaign ads, rebutted by Democrats, that Obama is trying to gut the law that requires welfare recipients to find work.
The measure faces an uphill path in the Democratic-led Senate and would not be signed by the president. But the vote highlighted the Republican campaign charge that Obama is engaged in class warfare, a theme echoed by presidential candidate Romney's statement that Obama represents the 47 percent of Americans who are dependent on government.
Reps. Dave Camp and John Kline, chairmen of the House Ways and Means and the Education committees, respectively, charged that the Obama administration "repeatedly has engaged in a systematic effort to undermine work and increase dependence across government benefit programs."
House Democrats said Republicans were deliberately distorting the intent of the administration guidelines and that three times during the George W. Bush administration House Republicans supported legislation that would have similarly given states more authority over welfare-to-work requirements.
The House resolution had one purpose, said Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee: "to provide a fig leaf of credibility for a political attack ad that has no credibility whatsoever."
The administration insists it would only drop the work obligations under the 1996 welfare law if governors can show they can accomplish the same goals using different methods.
In a July letter to congressional leaders, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that to qualify for a waiver, governors must show how they will move at least 20 percent more people from welfare to work. States must also show clear progress toward that goal within a year.
The 1996 welfare act was perhaps the greatest bipartisan success of the Bill Clinton presidency. It created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, provided states with block grants to carry out welfare reform, limited how long families may receive aid and required that 50 percent of families receiving benefits be participating in work activities.
Welfare caseloads steadily declined before the recession, and today there are only about 6.1 million people who live in a household that receives welfare benefits.
"It was one of the most successful parts of welfare reform," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said of the work requirements. "To gut these rules at this point in time is a giant step backwards."
Republican claims that Obama is trying to undermine the welfare act has been the subject of countless presidential election ads and gained further prominence with the emergence of the videotape in which Romney tells a private group of potential donors that Obama has sewn up the votes of the 47 percent of Americans who are dependent on government and see themselves as "victims."
Republicans also contended that the Health and Human Services Department was acting illegally in putting forth the waiver, saying the welfare law bars the administration from waiving the work requirement and citing a Government Accountability Office conclusion that the waiver plan should have been submitted to Congress for review.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, said Republicans had introduced the resolution because "particularly during this week, such a very difficult and troubling week for Mitt Romney, they're a little desperate. They think they can hoodwink enough Americans to turn on their neighbors by falsely dividing us, dividing us between makers and takers, between manufacturers and moochers, between producers and parasites."
On Wednesday Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, unsuccessfully tried to bring a similar resolution of disapproval to the Senate floor but was blocked by Democrats. Both Hatch and the House were acting under a law that allows Congress to review new federal regulations under an expedited procedure. He pledged that he would renew his effort when Congress reconvenes after the election.
Republicans, joined by 19 Democrats, were unanimous in supporting the House bill.