Opinion: Columnists

When ACORN still made kings, Obama made them big promises

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Opinion,Columnists,Sean Higgins,Campaign 2012

What does President Obama believe is the proper role of entitlements? The Romney campaign has charged that Obama wants an "entitlement society" of people dependent on the government.

After a 14-year-old clip of Obama stating he believes in "redistribution" surfaced last week, spokesman Ben LaBolt brushed it off, saying Obama was merely "making an argument for a more efficient, more effective government."

The Washington Examiner has obtained a more recent video that sheds some light on where President Obama stands on entitlement issues. The footage, from 2007, shows a relaxed and causal Sen. Barack Obama who knows he is among friends. He is meeting with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, aka ACORN, angling for its endorsement, reminding the group, as he puts it (at times rather obsequiously) in a previously released snippet of the video, "I have been fighting with ACORN, alongside ACORN on issues you care about my entire career. ... I definitely welcome ACORN's input. ... I'm gonna call you even if you didn't ask me."

Would Obama "work with community groups like ACORN to create a program funded by the federal government that reaches out to and enrolls all eligible Americans in the services they are entitled to?" one asks.

"Yes," replies Obama, not missing a beat. He cites his work on expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program as proof. He criticizes states for not proactively singing people up, and Republicans for resisting such a policy.

"That is the wrong philosophy," he says. "My attitude is I want every child signed up and every child healthy, because we are going to end up spending that money in other ways down the road. ... So, if somebody is eligible, it is the government's job to make sure that they let communities know and individuals know that they are eligible."

The questioner then asks, "Would your administration consider contracting with agencies such as ACORN to deliver these types of services?"

This time, Obama responds more cautiously. "I will look for community-based organizations that can do the job and do the outreach," he says. I don't want to promise that I would give ACORN a contract, because -- you know." Here he gestures in the direction of the camera. "Especially since I am seeking your endorsement, I don't want to make it seem like, uh, you know, I'm -- you know."

This is greeted with laughter.

Rival candidates Hillary Clinton and John Edwards made similar pitches to ACORN that year, of which The Examiner has video as well. But it was Obama who got their endorsement.

He went on to become president, of course. He did not follow through on the entitlement signup law, choosing to focus on health care instead. And with the timing of other events, the ACORN connection might have made it toxic in Congress anyway -- the group imploded in 2010 after a wave of internal and external scandals that included voter registration fraud, embezzlement and video stings by right-wing provocateur James O'Keefe.

But even if Obama did not keep his promise to the now-defunct ACORN, he has worked to expand entitlement programs.

Shortly after taking office, Obama signed an expansion of SCHIP, allowing an estimated 11 million people to become eligible. He did this by expanding the definition of "child" to anyone up to 26 years old.

His health care law requires states to expand Medicaid eligibility, which will add an estimated 17 million to the rolls. He's worked to undo conservative reforms too. This summer, his administration announced it would let states loosen the work requirements for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, aka cash welfare. Administration allies have disputed that this undermines the 1996 reform, but the Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector, an original architect of the reform, has pointed out the various ways the adjustments do exactly that.

In the 2007 clip, Obama argues that the government needs to provide more social services early on to avoid providing more expensive ones later. It's a fair argument. Hopefully, voters will get a chance to hear Obama make it this year.

Sean Higgins (shiggins@washingtonexaminer.com) is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter at @seanghiggins.

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