Mickey Kaus on the Obama welfare regs
HH: Talking now with Mickey Kaus of the Kausfiles, which you can read every day at the Daily Caller. Mickey, I was talking about you behind your back with Mitt Romney earlier today, citing your long piece from July 13 that keeps getting longer over at the Daily Caller. Where do you stand on the debate that has broken out on what HHS did and didn’t do, and President Obama did and didn’t do, and Mitt Romney did and didn’t do regarding the work requirement in welfare reform?
MK: Well, you know, they legally maybe gutted, gutted is the right word, it’s probably an exaggeration. But basically, HHS declared itself it has the authority to waive all these rules that were negotiated at great length between Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and they want to waive them in the wrong direction in that the Democrats reject the so-called work first philosophy that underlay welfare reform, which is don’t train for a job somewhere over the horizon, don’t pursue a five year degree on the grounds that while that’s going to be a better job when you get it, go to work right now, and that that’s a better approach. And liberals have always chaffed at that, and I think that HHS saw that they might not win the election, so they better do it now. I do not think, as the Romney camp charges, this was a political move. I think it was a political disaster for Obama.
HH: Now Mickey, a lot of Democrats are scratching their head as to why they did this, and I cited in the conversation with Romney Matt Yglesias, Dave Weigel, Yglesias, of course, a lefty, Weigel, I don’t know what his partisanship is. It doesn’t much matter. What matter is no one can figure out motive. I did not trot this out to the Governor, because I ask questions that they can answer, not speculations that they can’t. But let’s speculate together. We saw the HHS regs on contraception come out clearly set up because George Stephanopoulos asked the question in that famous New Hampshire debate, and then develop from the Obama team into an attack on Romney’s suitability as a choice for single women and younger women. Do you think that they’re going to try and pivot, they being Team Obama, from Romney’s counterattack on these welfare regs, saying that he is indifferent to the plight of single moms who are close to welfare, and they parry it into the war on women rhetoric?
MK: They might try that. If so, it’ll be something they think up on the fly. I do not think this was a political move the way the contraceptive issue was, an attempt to create an issue the way the DREAM Act was a political move to appeal to Latinos and others in the electorate. I think this was an apolitical move started by ideologues in the Department of Health & Human Services who’ve always wanted to do this, and thought it was a mild enough thing that they could sneak it by. And I think it’s giving David Axelrod nightmares. I think this Romney as, as Politico said, must have tested very well in focus groups. It’s a heavy buy, it’s a heavy push, and I think what the Obama camp hopes to do is neutralize it by getting the mainstream media to declare it a pack of lies and a swift boating. But I’m not sure that in stark political terms that will work. We’ll see in the next week if this ad begins to eat into Obama’s numbers.
HH: Yeah, I don’t think they can call this swift boating, and largely it’s because of the analysis you’ve put out that’s already been embraced by Yglesias and others on the left as being a solid policy-based critique of what HHS did. I do think there’s a bigger argument to make, and I tested it out with Romney, and he somewhat embraced it, which is on two levels, one, they disregard law a lot in the Obama administration. You know, they make recess appointments, the President does, when the Senate’s not in recess. They put out the immigration DREAM Act, the mini DREAM Act, and create a new work permit that’s not in law. They make Boeing close down their Charleston plant, and they also just do things that they don’t have the authority to do, like these HHS regs that attack the Catholic schools. Do you think there’s a big argument to be developed for the fall that this president’s use of power is a warning signal about his second term?
MK: Well, it’s a warning signal in two senses. You’re completely right. They push the limits. Whether or not this in particular is legal or illegal, I don’t know. You know, they say the Congress clearly intended that it not be waived. But they may have misdrafted it in a way that gave HHS an out. That’s for the courts. But clearly, the administration pushes the limits of its authority in a sort of arrogant way, and they’re going to have to do more of that in the second term, because they’re not going to control the Congress. And this seems to me to be one of the more powerful arguments for Romney, which is at least he will have a Congress of his own party so something might get done without him having to just unilaterally assert executive power. I call it the we can’t wait clause of the Constitution.
MK: There isn’t much authority to do it other than Obama thinks we can’t wait, and he’s going to do it until somebody stops him.
HH: Now a couple of people who responded to your pretty devastating critique of what the Team Obama did here said Mickey doesn’t understand there aren’t enough jobs, we can’t create public jobs, that the employment has rendered this a nullity. That doesn’t go to the statutory authority issue whatsoever. You take that argument to Congress and say change the work rules because we’re in a depression that we’ve got to work around. But what about the idea that people on welfare can’t find jobs right now?
MK: Well, if they had said look, we are temporarily in a bind, we’re going to relax these for two years until the recession ends, that would be one thing. They didn’t do that. And these are the same things they proposed in 2005 when there was no recession. So this is a permanent change they want to make, recession or no recession.
HH: Have you investigated, as I did, the Utah and Nevada letters from bureaucrats in two Republican administrations?
MK: I have not.
HH: Okay, they are not requests to waive the work rules. They just aren’t, and they weren’t made by the governors. They were made in response to a solicitation last year for suggestions on areas in which they might work for flexibility. And they are, the characterization of that is just dishonest. It’s deeply dishonest. Is that consistent with how this administration operates? Jay Carney especially yesterday went on this tear about this, and it’s just made up.
MK: It’s consistent. Governors are always squishy. Governors always want more flexibility. I’m sure at some point some governor, and some Republican governor will want to roll back the work rules. You’re right that public jobs are the solution. I am for public jobs. I’m still half of a Democrat. The problem with public jobs is the public employee unions hate them, they’re a big deal, they cost money, and governors would just as soon slack off and not do anything. The point of welfare reform to me was it would force governors who don’t want to do anything, and would rather spend their money elsewhere, to do something. And it doesn’t surprise me they’re trying to wriggle out of it. But this is an unpleasant implication for Republicans. I think you need something like Tommy Thompson did in Wisconsin, where you have a public job ready for somebody who goes on welfare and says we’re not going to give you welfare, but we will give you this job and you can get by on this job until you find something better. That’ll be a very good thing to do in the recession, and I’m surprised more Republican governors haven’t done it. I’m not surprised the Democrats haven’t done it, because they’re captives of the unions.
HH: All right, last question, in your analysis, again, it’s July 13th, Google Kaus and Daily Caller and welfare reform. You write that the actual and perceived toughness of the work requirements is in that it sent an opposite signal to welfare people thinking about getting on welfare. In other words, it was a signaling device that we are undercutting, because people who are in that situation, they don’t pay attention to the details. They just hear a big message. You have to get a job, or you won’t have to get a job. Is that a correct summary?
MK: That’s correct, and it sends the wrong message. I don’t know if it’s a big enough message to destroy welfare reform. But it’s the wrong message, and Romney’s right to call out Obama on it.
HH: Mickey Kaus of the Kausfiles, available at the Daily Caller, keep writing about this important stuff. Thank you, Mickey.
End of interview.