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Amnesia Strikes Democrats On Precedent for Ending A Governmental Program

How thoroughly has the Washington press corps forgotten the lesson of Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform?

Thoroughly enough that at the top of its front page on May 8, the New York Times reported that the Republicans overhauling ObamaCare “have been largely silent about one of the most remarkable aspects of what their legislation would do: take a step toward dismantling a vast government entitlement program, something that has never been accomplished in the modern era.”

A smart editor once told me to be careful before typing the word “never.”

In this instance, the Times reporter, Jeremy W. Peters, might have checked his own newspaper’s online archive. The August 23, 1996, Times front page reported, “In a sweeping reversal of Federal policy, President Clinton today ended six decades of guaranteed help to the nation’s poorest children… With his signature, at a Rose Garden ceremony, the President eliminated a pillar of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal social welfare program.”

Maybe to Mr. Peters, who graduated from the University of Michigan in 2002, the year 1996 doesn’t qualify as the “modern era.” Or maybe he or his editors at the Times are taking a post-modern approach to journalistic accuracy. To a pre-modern fellow such as myself, who actually was in Washington in 1996 covering the welfare reform story as it was happening, this is all worth remembering now, because the story is precisely relevant to today’s political and policy debates over the possible rollback of ObamaCare.

The alarmism is pretty much the same.

Back in the mid-1990s, Senator Edward Kennedy described the welfare reform legislation as “child abuse.” Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan called it “the most brutal act of social policy since Reconstruction.”

Peter Edelman, a Clinton administration staffer who resigned to protest the welfare reform law, wrote in the Atlantic that it would “move 2.6 million people, including 1.1 million children, into poverty…. There will be…

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