The Chicago Tribune’s Web site obituary today on former Congressman E. Clay Shaw (R-FL) notes his role in passing 1996’s sweeping welfare reform. The article states the legislation was “(b)acked by Republican leaders and then-President Bill Clinton.”
While it’s true that Clinton has for years taken bows for signing welfare reform, the authors err in not separating Clinton’s words from his actions. Yes, he did pledge in 1992 to "end welfare as we have come to know it," but after the election didn’t do much about it. In an August 1, 1996 Baltimore Sun piece, authors Carl M. Cannon and Karen Hosler wrote:
After assuming office, his administration took 17 months to propose a welfare reform plan -- a version supported by neither congressional Republicans nor Democrats.
After Republicans took over Congress in 1994, they made welfare reform a top priority.
Last winter, however, Clinton twice vetoed their version, saying it would take too much money out of the welfare system and would prove a hardship to poor children.
A third veto would have occurred in the bright light of a presidential campaign and would have risked putting Clinton at odds with some 90 percent of American voters, polls show.
If the GOP hadn’t, in an election year, force-fed Clinton welfare reform, he could not now brag about one of his major “accomplishments.”