New New York Times reporter Rebecca Berg gave the Obama camp the benefit of the doubt in Wednesday's "Shift in Welfare Policy Draws G.O.P. Protests." Berg didn't question whether the administration was purposely weakening welfare reform's work requirements for political advantage, but merely assumed the Obama camp was making a purely procedural move to give states "more latitude" in administering the welfare-to-work programs.
A move by the Obama administration to give states more latitude in running federal welfare-to-work programs has set off a firestorm among Republicans, who say it undercuts the work requirements set forth in the 1996 overhaul of welfare policy.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that it would grant states waivers to experiment with how they administer the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which distributes aid to the poorest Americans while they look for work.
The directive results from a broader effort by the Obama administration to peel back unnecessary layers of bureaucracy and allow states to spend federal money more efficiently. But Republicans, who characterize the move as a power grab by the executive branch, have criticized the waivers, saying they prove that the president and Democrats support providing welfare money without encouraging the recipients to find work.
(One clue as to the story's slant: Liberal New Yorker political writer Ryan Lizza congratulated Berg on Twitter for a "great piece.")
Berg played a little "gotcha" with the GOP on waivers:
State support of waivers is not a new phenomenon. In 2005, 29 Republican governors, including Mr. Romney and Mr. Huckabee, asked Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, for more “flexibility to manage their TANF programs and effectively serve low-income populations.”
“Increased waiver authority, allowable work activities, availability of partial work credit and the ability to coordinate state programs are all important aspects of moving recipients from welfare to work,” the letter read.
Pro-welfare reform Democratic journalist Mickey Kaus filed a comprehensive criticism of Obama's action, which he called possibly illegal.
....the work requirements were part of what sent that general “signal.” To the extent the administration’s action erodes the actual and perceived toughness of the work requirements, which it does, it sends the opposite and wrong signal.
Kaus included a rebuttal to the government's argument for greater flexibility for states:
An HHS official says state bureaucracies “expressed a strong interest in greater flexibility.” Of course – they always do! That’s why there was a big fight when writing the statute’s requirements. Welfare reformers could be forgiven for thinking the issue was settled then. If Obama let states off the hook every time they didn’t like a federal law … well, many federal programs would collapse. Obamacare, for starters.
Meanwhile, Tom Maguire caught the Times out on its failure to vet a quoted Republican critics, Peter Edelman. While Berg identified Edelman as a "professor at the Georgetown University Law Center," the Washington Post more usefully reminded readers that Edelman "served as assistant secretary of HHS under Clinton until he resigned in protest over the signing of welfare reform."