Today, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, called on President Obama to withdraw the Administration's proposal to waive welfare work requirements and to work in a bipartisan fashion with Congress to conduct a robust reform and reexamination of the 16-year-old Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, also known as welfare.
In a letter sent to President Obama today, Hatch said he would not force a vote on his Resolution of Disapproval (S.J.Res. 50) reversing the Administration's unilateral decision to undermine welfare work requirements this year. As an indication of good faith and a willingness to work with the Administration, Hatch asked the President to instruct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to withdraw its welfare work requirement waiver rule and instead submit a comprehensive and meaningful five-year TANF reauthorization proposal to Congress.
"Mr. President, these are deeply trying times for a number of families struggling in poverty, on the cusp of poverty and in our middle class," wrote Hatch. "However, working together in a bipartisan way, we can ease those struggles. I have taken the first step towards this goal. It is my earnest hope that you will join me."
The House passed a disapproval resolution earlier this year. If approved by Congress and signed by the President, the resolutions would halt the Administration's effort.
If the President refuses to work with Congress to put an end to the Administration's welfare work requirement waiver rule and produce a five-year reauthorization plan, Hatch would move forward with forcing a Senate vote on a new resolution of disapproval early next year in accordance with the rules associated with the Congressional Review Act (CRS).
Speaking on the Senate floor about the issue today Hatch said, "If President Obama does not withdraw the welfare wavier rule, submit a five-year TANF reauthorization plan, and then work with Congress to enact meaningful, comprehensive welfare reform that strengthens work requirements and provides for improved accountability of TANF spending, I will be right back here in a few months exercising my right to demand a vote on a new Resolution of Disapproval under the Congressional Review Act. I sincerely hope it does not come to that."
In July, HHS unilaterally granted itself the authority to exempt states from the work requirements that were a critical element of welfare reform and that could allow states to permit things like bed rest, smoking cessation and exercise to count as a work activity to receive these government benefits.
Hatch introduced a Resolution of Disapproval after the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the agency's decision qualified as a rule that must be submitted to Congress and that is subject to review -- and potential disapproval -- under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).
Following is procedural background on the Congressional Review Act (CRA):
What is the CRA?
The Congressional Review Act (CRA) was first enacted in 1996 as part of the Contract with America Advancement Act (P.L. 104-121).
The law requires that any agency promulgating a rule or a regulation must submit a report to the Congress and Comptroller General that contains a copy of the rule, a statement describing the rule and the proposed effective date. A rule cannot be implemented if this report is not submitted.
More importantly, the CRA gives Congress an expedited process under which new federal rules and regulations issued by an agency can be overruled via a joint resolution.
How does the CRA Work?
Within 60 days after the GAO determines an Administration action is a rule, and it is received by the Senate, any Senator can file a Resolution of Disapproval of the rule.
If the committee to which the joint resolution is referred to has not reported it in 20 days, then any Senator may get a discharge petition signed by 30 senators to proceed to the resolution. A vote to proceed to the resolution cannot be filibustered or amended.
If the motion to proceed is agreed to, it is followed by 10 hours of debate on the Resolution, followed by a vote on final passage.
Why will the CRA "re-set" next year?
The Government Accountability Office has determined that the July 12, 2012 memo is in fact a "Rule," under the Administrative Procedures Act and as such should have been submitted the Congress for review.
Since the welfare wavier is considered a rule, it is, like all rules, subject to a joint resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).
The Senate Parliamentarian agrees with the GAO, and she has advised that for purposes of the CRA, this rule should be considered to have been received by Congress on September 10, 2012, even though the Administration failed to submit it as required by law.
If Congress adjourns sine die before the full 60 session day period has elapsed, the Congressional Review Act provides brand new 60 day periods to introduce and act on a disapproval resolution aimed at this rule next year.
Since there will not have been 60 Senate session days between the date the welfare waiver rule is deemed to have been submitted to the Senate and the convening of the 113th Congress, the entire process "re-sets."