"Give me a break," former President Clinton said of then-candidate Barack Obama back in 2008. "This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen." This week at the Democratic National Convention, of course, Clinton sang a different tune. But he was right the first time.
Take welfare reform, of which Clinton said Wednesday, "[Republicans] actually have charged and run ads saying that President Obama wants to weaken the work requirements in the welfare reform bill I signed. ... Here's what happened. ... When some Republican governors asked if they could have waivers to try new ways to put people on welfare back to work, the Obama administration listened, because we all know it's hard for even people with good work histories to get jobs today. ... And the administration agreed to give waivers to those governors and others only if they had a credible plan to increase employment by 20 percent, and they could keep the waivers only if they did increase employment. Now, did I make myself clear? The requirement was for more work, not less."
It is true that Clinton did sign welfare reform in 1996 after he first vetoed it twice. That reform did contain new work requirements. And some Republican governors did request waivers from those requirements. But everything else Clinton said about welfare reform is 100 percent false.
First of all, Obama has not issued any waivers. All he has done is issue a legal memorandum innocently titled "Guidance concerning waiver and expenditure authority under Section 1115." Obama's Department of Health and Human Services claims the memo is just a "guidance document" that only tweaks welfare reform's work requirements.
But the independent and nonpartisan Government Accountability Office issued its own legal memo this week directly contradicting Obama's claims. The GAO found that the HHS memo did change current policy dramatically enough to trigger the congressional notification requirement in the Congressional Review Act. Accordingly, the government's watchdog agency concludes, Obama must now submit the policy change "to both Houses of Congress and the Comptroller General before it can take effect."
Clinton is also dead wrong about the substance of the policy change. Welfare reform only established minimum work requirements, not limits. If Republican governors wanted to increase their welfare employment requirements, nothing is stopping them from doing so. No waiver is needed.
What Obama's welfare memo actually does is change the definition of "work" under the law so that states can say they are meeting the minimum work requirements without actually finding work for welfare recipients. This would allow states to define activities such as "personal journaling," "motivational reading" and "weight loss promotion" as work -- which some states have attempted to do in the past.
Welfare reform was one of the signature bipartisan accomplishments of the Clinton era. Millions of people successfully moved from dependency to employment because of the reforms. But the reforms only came about because Clinton compromised and was willing to work with conservatives in Congress.
That is one area where Obama has failed and continues to fail. One of the noteworthy takeaways from Bob Woodward's forthcoming book is the fact that Obama did not even have John Boehner's cellphone number so that he could call and congratulate him on the 2010 election. That is a clear sign of how seriously Obama tried to work with Boehner during his first two years in office -- i.e., not at all.
Obama's illegal welfare memo is just another example of his unilateral expansion of executive power, this time in the service of increasing American dependency on the welfare state. To paraphrase Clinton circa 2008, "Give us a break."