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GOP May Seek Vote on Welfare Waiver Proposal

Charging President Barack Obama with seeking to roll back work requirements for an aid program for low-income people, Congressional Republicans may seek a vote that would repeal a White House move designed to give states more flexibility in implementing the program.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ranking member of the Finance Committee, “will be carefully evaluating his options in close consultation with his colleagues to determine the best path forward,” a Hatch aide said today. Options include pressing for a vote on the proposal.

Hatch’s comments come after the Government Accountability Office said the Department of Health and Human Services’ announcement that states could seek waivers from certain compliance requirements under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program was subject to the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to keep agency rules from taking effect. Such a resolution cannot be filibustered and needs only a simple majority in the Senate to pass if acted on during a 60-day window.

In June, the Senate defeated, 46-53, a review act resolution sponsored by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) that would have blocked Environmental Protection Agency regulations designed to reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants. Opponents of the rule said it would effectively ban the use of coal.

An HHS spokesperson said that despite the GAO opinion, the department maintains that the TANF proposal is not subject to the law.

“We received GAO’s legal opinion today, and we are reviewing it carefully,” HHS said. “But the executive branch and HHS’ consistent position during the 16-year period since the CRA was enacted in 1996 has been that the CRA does not require the submission to Congress of guidance documents.”

The GAO ruling was sought by Hatch and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), both of whom argue that the administration is circumventing Congress in an effort to end work requirements put in place 16 years ago.

“Despite the Obama Administration’s attempts to unilaterally undo welfare work requirements, this analysis is unequivocal that any changes must be submitted to Congress,” Hatch said in a joint release with Camp. “Circumventing Congress, as this White House has done, is a flagrant abuse of our system of checks and balances and an insult to American taxpayers.”

“President Obama has a long history of opposing tough work requirements in welfare,” Camp said in the release.

The issue has also come up in the presidential campaign, and Republicans have attacked Obama in ads about the proposal.

Democrats complain that the ads are false and that the rule is designed to allow states to test different strategies for how to meet the goals of the program.

“It’s absolutely untrue,” White House senior adviser David Plouffe said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”

According to the GAO, HHS has informed states that it would use the waiver authority to allow states to test various strategies, policies and procedures designed to improve employment outcomes for TANF recipients.

To be eligible for a waiver, states must submit an evaluation plan, a set of performance measures that states will track to monitor performance and outcomes, and a budget that includes the costs of program evaluation. States must also seek public input on the proposal prior to approval by HHS.