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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Another Back-Door Play

In all the furor over the last few weeks about the various nasty provisions in House and Senate budget reconciliation bills, most of the attention was paid to a major rise in interest rates for student loans, higher copayments and tighter eligibility rules for Medicaid, and all sorts of shenanigans associated with reimbursement rates for Medicare and Medicaid.But with relatively little notice, our Republican buddies have also sought to pull off a back-door maneuver that could unravel the consensus supporting welfare reform. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has the details, but here’s the big picture: Since the original welfare reform law of 1996 entered its last year in 2003, there’s been a deadlock in the Senate over the administration’s demand that work requirements for welfare recipients be increased without additional money for child care assistance, and the Democratic position (most notably promoted by Sens. Evan Bayh and Tom Carper) that the tighter work requirements will fail without the child care resources that make it possible for single mothers to go to work (a smaller group of Democrats oppose increased work requirements altogether),So now the GOPers are using the budget bill, which can’t be filibustered, to simply impose their position on welfare on the Congress and the country, even though some of these provisions were not in either the House or Senate version of the bill.When you consider the intense and free-ranging debate that accompanied the enactment of welfare reform in 1996–the tense back-and-forth maneuvers between the Republican Congress and President Clinton, who vetoed two versions of the bill, and the acrimonious national debate on the subject–it’s shameful that Republicans now want to make large changes in one of the most successful initiatives in recent history in the dark, with little or no debate. The fact that the changes they are insisting on are bad public policy adds injury to insult.

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