Fourteen years ago, Mickey Kaus and Peter Edelman held an engrossing bare-knuckled dialogue about the merits and pitfalls of welfare reform. For the youngsters, this 1996 bill abolished the 60-year-old Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), replacing it with the avowedly transitional Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), a block-granted program.
Looking back on that exchange, I suspect both antagonists have reason to feel themselves vindicated.
Edelman warned there–and in an embittered Atlantic article called “the worst thing Bill Clinton has done–that the recently-signed welfare reform would financially endanger the states because it removed their entitlement to federal funds for the needy people they were supporting. Edelman was wrong about that, because he was so right about something else: states’ eagerness and ability to punitively reduce the welfare rolls. In 1996, more than 12 million Americans received traditional welfare. Now only about 4.3 million do, despite population growth and the worst recession in several decades.
Republican Governors who support block-granting Medicaid may hope for a successful reprise of this experience. This won’t happen. In their haste to obtain immediate political victories and maybe some short-term fiscal relief, they are courting a long-term budget disaster for their states. At least that’s what I argue over in New Republic this morning.