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Welfare reform: Liberals were Chicken Littles

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted May 13, 2002

Liberals, either by design or simply because they believe in wrong ideas, often make outrageous statements. Yet they are seldom held accountable.

Scott Stanley, now deputy managing editor of Insight Magazine, when he was editor of a publication called "Review of the News," was the only media person to systematically juxtapose what liberals said with what really happened.

Well, the House Majority Leader, Dick Armey, has borrowed a leaf from Stanley and in a "Dear Colleague" letter examined what the liberals said about welfare reform as enacted in 1996 vs. the reality of what really took place since the bill was passed. It is only fair that Armey should perform this task, since every time the massive Clinton tax increase of 1993 is mentioned, a dozen liberals pop up out of nowhere to remind Armey that he had predicted a terrible recession if the bill was passed. We had no recession and instead enjoyed record prosperity. Armey counters that the recession was avoided because the Republicans gained control of the Congress in 1994, cut spending, and passed tax cuts which avoided the recession.

But I digress. Back to the welfare reform measure, which the GOP Congress passed in 1996. The first time around, Clinton vetoed the measure. The GOP Congress passed it again with minor changes, and Clinton vetoed that bill as well. For a third time, the Republicans in Congress made a few small changes to the bill and sent it to the president's desk. Dick Morris, who at that time was still advising Clinton, told him he had better sign this welfare bill or risk losing the election to Bob Dole, who was prepared to make Clinton's 1992 pledge "to end welfare as we know it" a major issue in his campaign against Clinton. Clinton reluctantly signed the measure. Now, it is now up for re-authorization.

So as this is debated in Congress, Armey went back into his files and this is what he found:

Marian Wright Edelman

Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children's Defense Fund, called the bill that Clinton signed an "outrage...that will hurt and impoverish millions of American children." She went on to say that the welfare reform act would leave a "moral blot" on Clinton's presidency and on our nation itself which will never be forgotten.

What actually happened, according to the Majority Leader, is that there are 2.3 million fewer children living in poverty than there were in 1996. Armey added sarcastically that the "moral blot" on the Clinton Presidency had nothing to do with welfare reform.

Meanwhile, back then The Urban Institute predicted that the welfare reform bill would push 2.6 million more people into poverty and cause eight million families to lose income. And Patricia Ireland, the then-president of the National Organization for Women, predicted that the bill Clinton signed, "places 12.8 million people on welfare at risk of sinking further into poverty and homelessness." Peter Edelman, then Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at HHS, resigned his post in protest over what Clinton had done, claiming that the welfare reform law would do serious injury to American children and create "more crime, increased infant mortality and increased drug and alcohol abuse." He also predicted an increase in family violence and abuse against children and women.

What really happened, according to Armey, is that there are 4.2 million fewer people living in poverty today than in 1996, despite the recession.

The poverty rate among single mothers is at the lowest point in U.S. history. Crime has gone down over this same period, and the Department of Agriculture says there are nearly 2 million fewer hungry children now than in 1996. Employment of young single mothers has about doubled and employment of mothers without a high school diploma has increased by 60 per cent.

The share of children living in single mother families has fallen, while the share living in married couple families has increased, with no correlated increase in abuse against women and children.

And finally, the out of wedlock birth rate has remained flat for the past five years and has actually decreased among the African-American community. That is quite a record, and one that directly contradicts the predictions of the experts.

Now Robert Carleson, who was Ronald Reagan's welfare director in California in the 1970s when Reagan became famous for welfare reform which worked and who also handled Reagan's welfare reform work when he was president, has this advice for the Congress as it now considers re-authorization: Leave the Bill alone. It is working. Don't try to fix it.

Carleson, who helped to draft the 1996 bill and who is now a senior fellow at the Free Congress Foundation, said he could think of ways to improve the measure here and there but once that Pandora's Box is opened, it paves the way for all sorts of revisions by the liberals which will end up destroying the good work this bill has accomplished.

Meanwhile now that Armey is leaving the Congress and must find gainful employment, I suggest a three times a week column to be also taped for radio and television, which would compare statements made over the years by liberals compared with what really has happened. The Cold War would be a splendid point to begin such a project.

Paul M. Weyrich is President of the Free Congress Foundation.

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