The New York Times, in its article "Welfare Limits Left Poor Adrift as Recession Hit" Saturday, brought attention to an easily ignored reality:?The ideological space between Democrats and Republicans, debated at water coolers and among the national punditocracy with blistering fervor, can be thin enough to squeeze a welfare check through while maintaining contact at both ends.
It was, after all, revered (among Dems, at least) President Bill Clinton who passed bipartisan legislation to reform the welfare system in 1996, moving away from the New Deal-era Aid to Families with Dependent Children program in favor of the unfortunately literal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, reducing federal aid to the impoverished by imposing strong time and spending caps.
Current Republican party titans vocally support the measure. Budget maestro Paul Ryan calls TANF "an unprecedented success." Presidential front-runner Mitt Romney has proposed extending cuts to "all these federal programs," such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Fading star Rick Santorum even borrowed a line from the Obama playbook, arguing that the federal tough love "gave them [the poor] something that dependency doesn't give: hope." How's that working out, exactly?
Not well, it turns out, though don't go asking Obama. The president, who seems to have banked his re-election campaign strategy on highlighting the differences between the two parties, has a mixed record on the welfare issue. Candidate Obama, on the campaign trail in 2008, touted his role in passing the reform -- though he did say he was "concerned" that it might have "disastrous results."?(Really covering all our bases, aren't we, Obama?) "It worked better than, I think, a lot of people anticipated," he said.
We think not, Mr. President. But perhaps you should take it to the "roughly four million women and children" living "jobless and without cash aid" quoted by the Times.
"Today, we are ending welfare as we know it," Clinton proclaimed in 1996. "But I hope this day will be remembered not for what it ended, but for what it began." Indeed, today we dwell on what our vaunted bipartisanship has wrought.
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