The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, more popularly referred to as “welfare reform,” has proved to have been a disaster. Just as critics had warned at the time, the law has increased extreme poverty, particularly for children.
In fact, the danger to children from welfare form was so great that the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman, condemned Hillary Clinton for her role in promoting the bill. Today, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touts her time at the Children’s Defense Fund as signifying a charitable and empathetic character. Not surprisingly, she leaves out Edelman’s condemnation.
As welfare reform hits its 20th anniversary this year, many of its former proponents on the left (or purported left) have suffered politically-induced amnesia.
Enter Neera Tanden, president of the neoliberal Center for American Progress, which has deep ties to the Clinton machine. Tanden has worked for both former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary Hillary Clinton. Tanden was working at the White House when the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act was being implemented.
Zaid Jilani of The Intercept reported that welfare reform architect Bruce Reed claimed Tanden was “obviously involved in the implementation” of the 1996 welfare reform law, but passed on answering as to how Tanden, whose mother had received welfare, could square her own life experience with a law taking away welfare from other mothers and their children. Reed suggested Jilani ask Tanden.
Tanden responded as she had to an earlier controversy related to welfare reform with writer Matt Bruenig by contacting people behind the scenes before launching a social media attack. Shortly after Jilani’s tweets, Tanden published an email from Bruce Reed on social media that was questionably formatted and attacked Jilani for using “unnamed innuendo.”
It’s not clear how well Tanden and Jilani were communicating given that Tanden had previously blocked Jilani on Twitter. Nonetheless, it was not long before Jilani produced audio of an interview with Reed that contradicted the claims Reed made in the email Tanden published.
Moreover, other Twitter users, observing the exchange, produced evidence from the William Clinton presidential library showing Tanden was part of White House discussions on implementing welfare reform, validating the original claim that initiated the dispute.
Earlier in the campaign, former Secretary Clinton and her supporters had happily framed Hillary Clinton’s candidacy as a continuation of the prosperous years under the leadership of President Bill Clinton. Now, it seems, Clinton and her allies want to distance themselves from the 90s, or at least the more unpalatable parts of the era.