by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Amid GOP talk of boosting work requirements for welfare, there remain just two sitting senators who voted against sweeping bipartisan legislation that did so in the 1990s.
Under President Bill Clinton, then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Republicans pushed through the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which introduced major changes to welfare and was signed into law by Clinton.
The legislation sunsetted the country’s existing cash welfare program and formed the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which imposed work requirements and a five-year lifetime cap on benefits.
The bill gained a sizable contingent of Democratic support at the time, including from some figures who are particularly notable today. Then-Delaware Sen. Joe Biden cast a vote in favor of strengthening work requirements, as did Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who now holds the powerful role as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Former Secretary of State John Kerry, who now serves as Biden’s special climate envoy, also voted in favor of the change.
Equally notable are the two current Democratic senators who pushed back on the welfare plan — Sens. Patty Murray (WA) and Dianne Feinstein (CA).
The Washington Examiner reached out to the offices of both senators but didn’t receive responses.
Biden at the time was notable in his full-throated support for work requirements in exchange for government assistance.“The culture of welfare must be replaced with the culture of work,” Biden said on the floor of the Senate ahead of his vote.
“The culture of dependence must be replaced with the culture of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility.”
Work requirements for welfare are back in focus because of the current situation with the debt ceiling, which was hit in January of this year. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced a plan to make federal work requirements more stringent as part of a legislative package that would raise the debt limit.