Wednesday, July 9, 2008

OBAMA FLIP FLOP OF THE DAY: WELFARE POLICY

ABC Barack Obama aligned himself with welfare reform, launching a television ad which touts the way the overhaul "slashed the rolls by 80 percent." Obama leaves out, however, that he was against the 1996 federal legislation which precipitated the caseload reduction.

"I am not a defender of the status quo with respect to welfare," Obama said on the floor of the Illinois state Senate on May 31, 1997. "Having said that, I probably would not have supported the federal legislation, because I think it had some problems."

Obama's transformation from critic to champion of welfare reform is the latest in a series of moves to the center. Since capturing the Democratic nomination, the Obama campaign has altered its stances on Social Security taxes, meeting with rogue leaders without preconditions, and the constitutionality of Washington, D.C.'s, sweeping gun ban.

The shift in Obama's rhetoric on welfare reform has proceeded in stages. When former President Bill Clinton was poised to sign welfare reform while running for re-election in 1996, Obama called it "disturbing." A decade later, as an underdog running for president against Clinton's wife, he spent 2007 avoiding the subject. By the time Obama emerged as the Democratic frontrunner in the spring of 2008, he began leaving the impression that he was for it all along.

During a 1996 interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Obama could not conceal his disappointment in his fellow Democrat. "Bill Clinton? Well, his campaign’s fascinating to a student of politics. It's disturbing to someone who cares about certain issues. But politically, it seems to be working," said Obama.

Calling himself a believer in "making lemonade out of lemons," Obama co-sponsored a 1997 bill approved by the Illinois legislature and signed by the governor which made changes to state programs to help move people from welfare to work.

He made clear at the time, however, that he probably would have opposed the federal welfare overhaul. Speaking on the floor of the Illinois state senate, Obama described his on-going concerns as including a lack of job training, insufficient oversight, and provisions blocking legal immigrants from receiving benefits.

While the states played an important role in helping people make the transition from welfare to work, the truly controversial decision which sparked the dramatic reduction in the welfare rolls was the one made by Clinton at the federal level.

The bill passed by a Republican Congress and signed by Clinton included work requirements and time limits. It included fewer supports for people moving from welfare-to-work than Clinton had originally envisioned. Though later restored at the federal level, it also included an end to benefits for legal immigrants which both Clinton and Obama found objectionable.

Clinton said it was far from perfect legislation. But unlike Obama who looked at its flaws and said he probably would not have supported it, Clinton signed it. . .

While campaigning for president in 2007, Obama refused on two occasions to say if he would have signed the same welfare-reform bill approved by the husband of his top rival. . .

Once he had become the Democratic frontrunner in the spring of 2008, Obama signaled that he had always backed the 1996 welfare reform.

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