Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The New York Times on Welfare Reform

The New York Times, today:
[N]one of the shortcomings of the G.O.P.-controlled Congress are more confounding than its failure to renew one of the acclaimed successes of the past decade, the welfare reform law of 1996.

Much of the partisan angst and philosophical conflict that marked the original passage dissipated as the law sharply shrank welfare rolls by 60 percent and guided millions of recipients from the dole to low-income employment and career opportunities. In keeping with the law's emphasis, states and localities began exercising creative authority to tailor federal block grants to the particular child care, transportation and education needs of welfare recipients and the working poor. Renewal, with some moderate tinkering, seemed a no-brainer.
Renewal of welfare reform is a no-brainer, huh?

But back in 1996, the welfare reform bill was a "draconian" means of "punishment" that would throw "a million children into poverty." Not only that, it was "atrocious," "harsh," "extreme," "devastating," "not humane," "punitive," "odious," "shocking," and "arrogan[t]." If that wasn't enough, it was not "acceptable."

Thanks to LEXIS, here's what the New York Times said then:
The New York Times,
August 28, 1996, Wednesday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section A; Page 18; Column 1; Editorial Desk

HEADLINE: Screening for Homelessness

New York City's leadership is right to insure that families seeking shelter at city expense really deserve it. The draconian welfare-reform bill just passed in Washington, in addition to the declining Federal support for public housing, makes it especially vital to sort out the truly needy from those who feign homelessness to get better housing or move higher on the public housing waiting list.

* * *

The New York Times, August 25, 1996, Sunday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section 4; Page 12; Column 1; Editorial Desk

HEADLINE: The 'Nonworking Class'

Proponents of the draconian welfare reform just enacted in Washington say the bill will help the poor to exchange "welfare checks for paychecks." But this welfare reform will do nothing of the kind. It will terminate welfare benefits after five years -- throwing perhaps a million children into poverty -- while doing little to create jobs in distressed areas where work does not exist. Having revoked Federal support, the country has an obligation to find or help to create jobs.

* * *

The New York Times, August 1, 1996, Thursday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section A; Page 26; Column 1; Editorial Desk

LENGTH: 579 words

HEADLINE: A Sad Day for Poor Children

President Clinton's defense at yesterday's press conference of his decision to sign an atrocious welfare bill exaggerated its tiny virtues and ignored some large faults. His disappointing excuse was that the flawed bill was the last realistic chance to fulfill his campaign promise to "end welfare as we know it." Last chance? This conservative Congress longs to send him as many bills as it takes to cut welfare. . . .

This is not reform, it is punishment. The Administration's staff estimates that such provisions will throw a million more children into poverty. The President himself criticized the harsh cut in food stamps for families saddled with excessive energy and housing bills. Even worse, the bill would prevent unemployed workers without minor children from collecting food stamps for more than three months in any three-year period -- even if they work steadily, get laid off and can find no new job.

There are also extreme cuts in benefits for disabled children and impoverished legal immigrants. Mr. Clinton promised to work for reversal of some of these missteps after he signs the bill, but there is little chance that this Congress will raise taxes or cut other popular entitlement programs for the sake of poor immigrants.

The effect on some cities will be devastating, especially those with large immigrant populations. New York estimates that by cutting off parents on welfare for more than five years even if they have no job prospects, by providing too little money for job slots and by cutting off immigrants, the measure will impose hundreds of millions of dollars of costs each year on a city that can barely afford the services it currently provides. Besides, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani points out, the city has already aggressively pruned welfare rolls and put recipients to work under existing law. . . .

This bill provides no useful follow-up. It is not fair to cut parents off welfare unless they are provided an opportunity to work. It is not humane to remove a Federal guarantee of welfare aid and create the leeway for additional punitive cuts at the state level. A bill that creates child poverty is not an acceptable way to end welfare as we know it.

* * *

The New York Times, July 25, 1996, Thursday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section A; Page 22; Column 1; Editorial Desk

HEADLINE: Mr. Clinton's Duty on Welfare

President Clinton says he might sign welfare legislation if Congressional negotiators improve the House- and Senate-passed bills in a conference committee. He should stop shadow-boxing. The House's bill is odious. The Senate's is only slightly less so. The conferees will produce a compromise somewhere in between. That is not a place a Democratic President should stand.

The conferees will hand the President a bill that, like the bills they will work from, will hurl more than a million children into poverty. It will slice food stamps by an average of $600 for families earning less than $6,300 a year. It will strip legal immigrants, including some elderly, of health insurance. It will, for the first time ever, tell workers who lose their jobs after years of steady work that they cannot collect food stamps for their children. President Clinton will find no honorable reason, in his own promises of welfare reform or the history of his party, to sign such a bill. . . .

To find serious fault with the House and Senate bills is not to deny the need for reform. The welfare system discourages work, encourages dependence and can foster family breakdown. But Congress's arrogance in reshaping 61-year-old institutions is shocking. No one knows how time limits and many other provisions will work out in practice. Critics say they will pummel children and many innocent parents. The G.O.P. says that time limits will force recipients to take responsibility for finding work.

Maybe so. But there is no evidence that time limits will work as promised. If they do not, it is the children who will suffer most. If Congress were serious about reform, and not waging ideological vendettas, then it would watch what happens when states experiment with time limits and other reforms. Wisconsin has asked Washington for permission to impose time limits on welfare benefits and guaranteed work opportunities. Before Congress sets up an untested system nationwide, it might at least see whether such limits work in Wisconsin, which benefits from a flush economy and competent state government.

The Republicans think they have cornered Mr. Clinton. Either he will alienate his liberal constituents by signing their bill, they think, or he will alienate a huge chunk of the middle class by vetoing it. Mr. Clinton vetoed two previous G.O.P. measures, contending that they would hurt children.

With November looming, Mr. Clinton is wavering. He stopped his staff from producing a new estimate of the Congressional proposal's impact on children -- an estimate that would surely have shown that the new legislation is only marginally different from the bills he vetoed. Even without those official estimates, he knows very well what the consequences will be. He should also know he will be harming children and blemishing his record of compassion if he signs the Congressional bill.

* * *
The New York Times, June 1, 1996, Saturday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section 1; Page 18; Column 1; Editorial Desk

HEADLINE: Who Stands for Children?

. . .
Poor children need better educational opportunities, better nutrition and health programs and communities where they can grow up free of guns and violence. Yet President Clinton and Congress have embraced welfare reform bills that could throw a million more children into poverty, and Congress has balked repeatedly at more meaningful gun control.
That's not counting the many op-eds that the New York Times ran lambasting the 1996 welfare reform bill at the time. Here are a couple of quotes from the understated Bob Herbert:
The New York Times, July 22, 1996, Monday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section A; Page 19; Column 5; Editorial Desk

HEADLINE: In America;
The Mouths of Babes


There is something very creepy about the welfare debate.

The politicians have gotten together and decided it's a good idea to throw a million or so children into poverty. But they can't say that. The proponents of this so-called "reform" effort have gone out of their way to avoid being seen for what they are -- men and women of extreme privilege who are taking food out of the mouths of infants and children, the poverty-stricken elderly, the disabled.

* * *

The New York Times, August 2, 1996, Friday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section A; Page 27; Column 1; Editorial Desk

HEADLINE: In America; Throw Them Out


They should have included, in this charade called welfare reform, instructions on how you actually get these useless elderly people out of their dwellings -- these blind people, and the men and women addled by Alzheimer's, and the ones disabled by strokes or cancer or heart disease. I'm talking about the elderly disabled immigrants who, by the grace of our President and a rabid Congress, are soon to be suddenly destitute. Paying rent will be out of the question, so they will have to be evicted. Do you get stretchers and carry them out of their homes and leave them at the curb, or do you wheel them out, or do you just drag them out?
Just to be clear, we should all change our minds, if need be, in the light of education and experience. But if the New York Times is going to say now that welfare reform is a "no-brainer," it would be nice if they included something like this: "Indeed, now that we realize the benefits of welfare reform, it makes us cringe with embarrassment to read the hysterical arguments that we regularly made at the time. Apologies to any readers that were misled by our lack of expertise."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Much as I love a good NYT bashing, I think you are being unfair. The Times editorial seems to say that in 2004 renewal of welfare reform is a no-brainer.

In 1996 the Times published many scare stories about the soon-to-be, then recently-enacted welfare reform. Now we know just how wrong they were.

Perhaps the editorial calling renewal of welfare reform "a no-brainer" is a back-handed way of the Times apologizing and saying, "Boy, were we ever wrong! But we've learned a lot in eight years."

9:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where the Times is concerned, a back-handed admission of error is the best you're going to get.

Still, isn't renewal stalled because certain troglodytes in the Senate remain as opposed to welfare reform today - and therefore won't permit a vote on reauthorization - as they were back when they were echoing the Times circa 1996?

If that's the case, why is that a failure of the "Republican Congress"?

10:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great catch. As a former Clintonite, I remember the wailing and knashing of teeth.

When you are wrong you should say so, explicitly and openly. I think admitting to hysteria would be enough. Even for the Newspaper of Record™.

10:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Give the Times its due; when Libya agreed to give up its weapons of mass destruction, the Times wrote a magnanimous editorial that frankly conceded that the paper's editors had attacked the Bush administration's approach, but that in this case, the Bushies had been right. I had to pinch myself to make sure I was awake. But it proves that the Timesfolk will occasionally own up.

10:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you sure the Times backed down on Libya in our reality? Or are you from some neighboring dimension where they're capable of admitting that they made a mistake?

11:18 PM  
Blogger KCFleming said...

In the foucauldian view of the world, there is no verifiable truth and there is no "real" history. What one does at the moment is all that matters (unless you are an enemy of the paper).

Therefore, the NYTimes is being internally consistent by reinventing its position where it suits their needs. No problem!

6:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't "Much of the partisan angst and philosophical conflict that marked the original passage dissipated...", the NYT nuanced way of saying "we were against it before we were for it"?

9:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe the Times then meant draconian in a good way.

12:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If you would like to investigate these articles further, you will find that they are OP-ED pieces. While the NYT has discretion to publish them, this bashing only really lends itself to the biases of certain readers." No further investigation is necessary: in this very blog, every NYT quotation is clearly noted as coming from the editorial desk. And how is it "bashing" to point out that the Times now calls a "no-brainer" what it railed and railed against at the time. Talk about the biases of certain readers. Geesh. ELC.

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The editorial desk is not responsible for writing op-eds. Op-ed is short of opposite of the editorial page. That is, these are the views of certain individual commentators, not the paper itself. In this context, a paper such as the Times is only responsible for what it publishes as an official editorial.

1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unless I'm mistaken, except for the Herbert articles, these are all on even numbered pages, which in the NYT indicates that they are unsigned items written by Times staff under the direction of the editorial page editor. The opposition pieces appear on odd numbered pages, which comprise the right hand side of the two page editorial layout. RRRyan

3:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used this work in my own analysis of Welfare Reform, including history and politics and the effects on teen birth rates, poverty and much, much more. I also include a large number of charts and graphs. I appreciate the information that this page gave me. I wish I had Lexis! Thanks again! Travis

3:27 PM  

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