“The Worst Thing Bill Clinton Has Done”?

On Thursday night, I enjoyed the great privilege of celebrating the tenth anniversary of welfare reform at a dinner organized by my good friend Jennifer A. Marshall of The Heritage Foundation.

Much good has come in the ten years since President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996–contrary to the predictions of liberals at the time.

Peter Edelman, then President Clinton’s Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services, resigned in protest of the law and smeared the signing of it in an article titled “The Worst Thing Bill Clinton Has Done”.

Only a federal demagogue as dependent upon the welfare state as its recipients could believe that encouraging personal responsibility was Bill Clinton’s most ignoble act.

As it turns out, welfare reform is one of the rare positive outcomes of the Clinton presidency.

Welfare reform has pulled children and families from poverty and set them on the path to prosperity.

According to Congressional testimony by Heritage’s Robert Rector, 1.6 million fewer children live in poverty today than in 1995. Welfare caseloads have been more than halved; there were 4.3 million welfare families in 1996, but today there are only 1.89 million. And the growth rate of out-of-wedlock child-bearing has slowed substantially. In 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson launched his War on Poverty, the illegitimacy rate was 7.7 percent; by 1995, it was 32.2 percent. Had that explosive growth continued, the rate would have risen to 41.6 percent by 2003, but it instead slowed to 34.6 percent.

The Personal Responsbility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 is the backbone of a much-needed exit strategy for the morally destructive War on Poverty.

Welfare reform’s only losers are the poverty profiteers whose programs harm the very people they’re supposed to help.

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