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Republicans move to block Obama administration from changing welfare reform

Republicans are pressing ahead with a plan to block the Obama administration from waiving parts of the welfare-to-work law in what critics have likened to “gutting” welfare reform.

Emboldened by a federal report that signaled the administration exceeded its authority by waiving the provisions, congressional Republicans said Tuesday they plan to use a special procedure to force a simple majority vote in the Senate on the changes.

“What the president has done is totally ignore the rights of the Senate and the House, with regard to legislation,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told Fox News. “They don’t have any right to do that.”

The welfare changes have become a political football in the 2012 presidential race.

Republicans claim the Obama administration is trying to erode requirements that welfare recipients seek employment. The administration claims it is merely trying to give states — including those run by Republicans — the flexibility they’ve asked for, with the goal of ultimately putting more welfare recipients to work.

Republicans, though, went after the process. Hatch and House members including Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., asked the Government Accountability Office to determine whether the administration even had the power to waive the provisions.
A law called the Congressional Review Act allows lawmakers to overrule administration regulations with a simple majority. And the GAO said the waiver plan is in fact a regulation subject to the law, though the administration disputes that.

The original change from the Department of Health and Human Services was announced in July. The department said the states may seek a waiver from the work component in order to “test alternative and innovative strategies, policies and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families.”

HHS stressed that any alternative should still aim to get welfare recipients into gainful employment. Any plan that “appears substantially likely to reduce access to assistance or employment for needy families,” will not be approved, the memo said.

But Republicans accused the administration of going too far. Hatch said that while some governors wanted more flexibility in the system, they didn’t need a waiver — and he said Congress needs to play a role.

“If we allow that, that means we might as well forget the Congress of the United States,” the senator said.

Fox News’ Jim Angle and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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