The Beginning of the End of Welfare Reform?

As if there were not enough reasons to oppose the Big Boondoggle, otherwise known as the stimulus bill, it appears that Democrats have slipped in a provision that would take the first steps toward undoing the 1996 welfare reform.

A provision of the bill would establish a $3 billion “emergency fund” for states to use to pay for increases in their welfare rolls. Significantly the legislative language would reward states for increasing their caseloads, regardless of whether the increase was due to increased unemployment or other economic conditions or simply because the state loosened its work requirements or time limits. It also shifts the base for states caseload reduction bonuses in a way that will discourage states from holding down the growth in welfare. And, while the grant does not eliminate welfare reform’s central concept of replacing the individual entitlement to welfare with a state block grant, it certainly weakens the foundation.

This effort to undermine welfare reform, should not be seen in isolation. As an Illinois State Senator Barack Obama was highly critical of the 1996 reform. Recent articles and editorials in the New York Times have signaled a new campaign on the Left to restore welfare to its pre-96 rules. And, of course, the stimulus bill also dramatically increases non-cash welfare benefits like Medicaid and food stamps.

I’m not sure that when the American people voted for change, they were really seeking a return to 40-years of welfare failure.

100 Years of Failed Drug Prohibition

Dale Gieringer observes that the federal government’s war on (an arbitrary list of) drugs began one hundred years ago this week.  Excerpt:

This week marks the centennial of a fateful landmark in U.S. history, the nation’s first drug prohibition law.  On February 9, 1909, Congress passed the Opium Exclusion Act, barring the importation of opium for smoking as of April 1.  Thus began a hundred-year crusade that has unleashed unprecedented crime, violence and corruption around the world —a war with no victory in sight.

Read the whole thing.

This month Cato released our latest Handbook for Policymakers.  In this volume, David Boaz and I urge Congress to bring this sad chapter of drug prohibition to an end (pdf) or at least get the federal government out of it.  Later this month, Cato’s Ted Galen Carpenter and Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, among others, will be discussing the how well drug prohibition is working in Mexico.  For more information about that event, go here.  For more Cato scholarship on the drug war in general go here.

“Redress” = Due Process

In discussions about data-intensive government programs like watchlists, people often talk about the importance of “redress” - giving the public some way to correct information or dispute adverse decisions arising from these programs.

“Redress” is a misnomer that diminishes the importance of the subject at hand. Constitutional Due Process is what’s at stake. So says the Ninth Circuit in the case of Humphries v. County of Los Angeles.

Power of Paper

When I have an op-ed on an electronic site, such as NRO, I will receive maybe 1 or 2 emails with feedback from strangers. My op-ed on tax cheats and tax reform yesterday in the Washington Post generated 33 responses from strangers. Most came between about 8:30 am and 12 noon as people were likely sitting down with their morning coffee and flipping through the old-fashioned paper pages of Outlook.  

For the record, 29 were generally favorable toward my comments and major tax reform, although about half of those folks rapped me for not coming down harder on the tax cheats. Four responses were quite negative or hostile.

All the comments were quite thoughtful except one: “FU to you and Steve Forbes on the flat tax BS propaganda.” To that person, I am assigning homework: Please read this study and my book and send me a more sophisticated critique.

Stop the Madness!!

According to Bloomberg.com:

U.S. Taxpayers Risk $9.7 Trillion on Bailouts as Senate Votes

The stimulus package the U.S. Congress is completing would raise the government’s commitment to solving the financial crisis to $9.7 trillion, enough to pay off more than 90 percent of the nation’s home mortgages…

Only the stimulus package to be approved this week, the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program passed four months ago and $168 billion in tax cuts and rebates approved in 2008 have been voted on by lawmakers. The remaining $8 trillion in commitments are lending programs and guarantees, almost all under the authority of the Fed and the FDIC. The recipients’ names have not been disclosed.

“We’ve seen money go out the back door of this government unlike any time in the history of our country,” Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, said on the Senate floor Feb. 3. “Nobody knows what went out of the Federal Reserve Board, to whom and for what purpose. How much from the FDIC? How much from TARP? When? Why?”

The pledges, amounting to almost two-thirds of the value of everything produced in the U.S. last year, are intended to rescue the financial system after the credit markets seized up about 18 months ago. The promises are composed of about $1 trillion in stimulus packages, around $3 trillion in lending and spending and $5.7 trillion in agreements to provide aid….

The $9.7 trillion in pledges would be enough to send a $1,430 check to every man, woman and child alive in the world. It’s 13 times what the U.S. has spent so far on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Congressional Budget Office data, and is almost enough to pay off every home mortgage loan in the U.S., calculated at $10.5 trillion by the Federal Reserve…

Commitments may expand again soon. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner postponed an announcement scheduled for today that was to focus on new guarantees for illiquid assets to insure against losses without taking them off banks’ balance sheets. The Treasury said it would delay the announcement until after the Senate votes on the stimulus package…

When Congress approved the TARP on Oct. 3, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson acknowledged the need for transparency and oversight. The Federal Reserve so far is refusing to disclose loan recipients or reveal the collateral they are taking in return…

Lamar Smith vs. the WSJ

House Judiciary Committee ranking member Lamar Smith (R-TX) wrote a plea for E-Verify, the federal worker background check system, in the Washington Times yesterday. He dedicates the first paragraphs to a broad analogy between immigrant workers and burglars, then says:

E-Verify is the federal government’s system that enables businesses to hire legal workers. It is a sure way to protect jobs for U.S. citizen and legal immigrant workers alike, and ensure their jobs aren’t stolen by illegal immigrants.

Time was when Republicans opposed regulation rather than extolling it.

Smith’s advocacy for increased regulation in the name of a closed society is handily eclipsed by the Wall Street Journal’s editorial on the topic this morning, reporting on the status of the effort to expand E-Verify through the economic stimulus legislation:

[W]e’re happy to report that negotiators so far have rejected a troublesome amendment that would require any business receiving stimulus funds to enroll in E-Verify, a government program for determining work eligibility. The last thing employers need now is more bureaucratic red tape.

And the Journal is talking about solutions:

Illegal immigration tends to flow and ebb based on the strength of the U.S. economy. Given the recession, it’s likely to decline in the short-run, and Congress might use the lull to enact some substantive policy reforms. Work-site enforcement should be part of a broader immigration debate, not something slipped into a stimulus bill to placate protectionists.

The winner, by a knockout: the Wall Street Journal.