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Public Statements

Providing for Consideration of H.R. 890, Preserving the Welfare Work Requirement and TANF Extension Act of 2013

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. COLE. Mr. Speaker, on Tuesday, the Rules Committee met and reported a closed rule for consideration of H.R. 890, the Preserving Work Requirements for Welfare Programs Act of 2013.

The rule provides for 1 hour of debate equally divided between the chairman and the ranking member of the Committee on Ways and Means. In addition, Mr. Speaker, the rule provides one motion to recommit with or without instructions.

It was not the intention of the Rules Committee, Mr. Speaker, to have a closed rule. However, the committee received only four amendments, one of which was withdrawn. The remaining three amendments were all subject to points of order for germaneness and other violations of the rules of the House. Unfortunately, we are left with little choice but to propose a closed rule.

Mr. Speaker, H.R. 890 would prohibit the Secretary of Health and Human Services from issuing waivers relating to compliance with the work requirements for welfare recipients, which were created under the historic 1996 welfare reform law. These work requirements have led to more work, more earning, less welfare dependence, and less poverty among low-income Americans.

Additionally, H.R. 890 incorporates the text of H.R. 987. H.R. 987 extends the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs, also known as TANF, which is due to expire on March 27, through the end of 2013.

Mr. Speaker, the Welfare and Medicaid Reform Act of 1996 made historic changes in the way our country treats its most impoverished citizens. Generally, the reforms offered States new flexibility in designing welfare programs. However, in exchange for that flexibility, strong new Federal work requirements were put in place. These requirements specified the minimum number of hours per week an individual must engage in either work or work-related activities and penalties for failure to comply.

What were the results of the 1996 reforms? Well, let me just go over a few. America saw the greatest reduction in poverty among children since the 1960s. The employment rate for single mothers in 2010 is higher than it was in 1996, even though the unemployment rate itself has almost doubled during that period of time. Poverty among single mothers has fallen by 30 percent. The list of successes associated with the law, which I must stress was bipartisan and worked upon by both parties both in this Chamber and obviously by President Clinton, goes on and on.

In addition, Mr. Speaker, the Welfare Reform Act specifically prohibited waivers of the new TANF work requirements. Under both Republican and Democratic administrations, it's been assumed that these requirements could not be waived. However, the current administration, through a so-called ``informational memorandum''--I'm frankly not quite sure what that is--has decided it does have the authority to waive these work requirements.

Mr. Speaker, the bipartisan compromise that was drafted in 1996 has done a good job in reducing poverty in this country and improving the lives and the prospects of those mired in very difficult circumstances. We should not allow the administration to undo, by an informational memorandum, what the Congress and Presidents in the past have been able to accomplish by statute.

Mr. Speaker, this is a good bill and a good rule. I urge the support of the rule and the underlying legislation, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. COLE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

It was once famously observed that the inhabitants of the United Kingdom and the United States were two people divided by the same language. Evidently, that applies to the people of Massachusetts and the people of Oklahoma.

I want to thank my good friend, who kindly sent me a note. I had mentioned if you're from Oklahoma, we would say he's from Worcester, but he said it's ``Worcest-ah.'' So I want to get that right, and I want to thank my friend for correcting me. That's probably the only place my friend and I will agree, and I'll agree that it was appropriate to correct me.

Let me just make a couple of simple responses to what my friend had to say. I don't want to re-debate sequester. He and I had an opportunity to do that in the context of the continuing resolution last week. But the idea that that was somehow partisan, when over 50 of my friends' colleagues voted for it on final passage, strikes me as odd. It was, actually, quite bipartisan, and we began a process in that that is going to result in saving the American people $1.2 trillion.

We think we made initial steps in improving the bill. It appears to us as if that same process is working now on the other side of the rotunda amongst our friends in the Senate, and so we're working our way towards a responsible piece of legislation, operating through regular order and trying to find common ground.

We're not happy with the sequester. We tried to fix it a couple of times, as my friend recalls. Neither the Senate nor the President ever took us up on that offer, so we worked hard. Now we found another route. Perhaps we can keep working and find some common ground in some other areas.

As to this bill itself, let's just go back to the specifics. All we're doing is making sure that the work requirement stays in place. I'll make a rather bold prediction and say after the rule vote is over, probably a lot of Democrats will vote for that legislation.

They'll vote for it for two reasons:

First, it reauthorizes TANF, which is a good thing. We agree on that. It's a good piece of legislation. And certainly we should provide the neediest of our people certainty through the end of the fiscal year, as opposed to the end of March. So I think that's an effort by both sides to do the right thing.

But second, if there's a misunderstanding here and we misinterpreted the administration, fair enough. I don't think we did, but regardless, let's just make absolutely sure and pass this legislation. If we both agree on it, it shouldn't be a point of a great deal of contention.

And with that, Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. COLE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I just want to quickly respond to my friend's point on sequester again. A little bit like Lucy and the football, we've tried this twice, and the idea that we should now have to tee it up a third time before the President rouses himself--or the Senate--to action, strikes me as a little bit extreme. Again, we've tried to do it. We're now moving through another process. It seems to be working. Regular order seems to actually be working around here, and I'm hopeful we'll get to, before the end of the month, a resolution that will be considerably better than the CR, that will frankly have folded a lot of the work of the Appropriations Committee into what is effectively the fiscal year 2013 budget.

To my friend from Puerto Rico, it is my understanding--and I'm not a parliamentarian--that the amendment was not germane or was ruled out of order to the bill. Again, I'm not and don't pretend to be an expert on that, but I think he makes an excellent point, and it is certainly a matter worthy of consideration at some appropriate time.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, we don't have a great deal of disagreement here. Let's just make sure that the work requirement is there. There is considerable debate as to who asked for waivers, whether they were asked for, and whether it was reform. I've seen a lot of back-and-forth on this, and I don't pretend to know; but I think it's the clear intent of this Chamber, and always has been since the legislation was passed, that the work requirements remain intact. So just reiterating that point I think makes it crystal clear to everyone and perhaps eliminates the confusion.

Again, I think the reauthorization of the underlying legislation is something that both parties want to accomplish and want to provide certainty for people that are in very difficult circumstances that they're not going to be at risk financially if for some reason, which I don't anticipate, we actually don't get our work done by March 27 and avoid some sort of catastrophic government shutdown. Again, something that I know the President wants to do and something that my friends on the other side of the aisle want to do and something I think our colleagues in the United States Senate want to do.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. COLE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I want to take a moment and respond to some of my friend's concerns and points. First, simply on sequester, with all due respect, I'm glad there's an interest now. There wasn't an interest last May when this House passed legislation. The Senate never picked it up; the President never offered a counter. There wasn't an interest last December. There seems to only be an interest here in the final, waning days.

Now, we actually think we're proceeding in the continuing resolution, perhaps in the upcoming budget debates, and perhaps later on in ways where we can come back and work in a bipartisan fashion. But our efforts to do that were twice rebuffed, and now we're beaten up for not doing it a third time. I think two chances is about as many as you get. And, again, we'll try to find another way to work with our friends on this thing.

As for the job loss, I couldn't agree more with my friend. This is a tremendously bad thing for the economy. This is not the right way to do things. We would have preferred to have done it differently.

Now, you can always arrive at some interesting figures on job loss. According to the CBO, the Affordable Care Act will cost 800,000 jobs. I doubt my friends would work with us to repeal that and save those 800,000 jobs. They've got other objectives there.

Our objective in the entire sequester effort is simply to begin to lower the long-term debt for this country, a debt that is going to undermine the economy and destroy many, many, many tens of thousands of jobs in the coming years unless we deal with it. We're making that effort today in the Ryan budget, in the Budget Committee. That will be on the floor next week.

I know my friends will have an alternative for that. I welcome that. I'm glad they're doing that. They did not do that when they were in the majority.

The Senate finally, for the first time in 4 years, looks like it's going to put out a budget. It's not a budget that I would like, but they're going to put one out; and I think that's a very good thing.

So, again, I see some little gleams and glistenings of progress around here. And I do want to thank my friend because we have worked together in the last 70 or 80 days on some significant things. I worked with my friend on the fiscal cliff. I worked with my friend on Hurricane Sandy relief, worked with my friend on violence against women; and I very much appreciate his kind words about that.

So I actually see opportunities in front of us, as well as obvious differences and debates that we're surely going to have.

Mr. Speaker, in closing, I believe that the underlying bill provides additional certainty for those currently on the TANF program and ensures that their benefits will not lapse at the end of the month, something I know that my friends are concerned about, just as we are, and want to ensure that that doesn't happen.

In addition, it maintains the bipartisan work requirements that this administration professes to support, but has clearly created some doubt about. So let's give them the opportunity, through this legislation, just to make sure that there's no misunderstanding, that both parties and the administration want to maintain the work requirements.

In closing, I would urge my colleagues to support the rule and the underlying legislation.

Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time, and I move the previous question on the resolution.

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