Negotiating Welfare Reform: A Conventional Narrative Re-Visited
Pino, Jordan A. “Negotiating Welfare Reform: A Conventional Narrative Re-Visited”, Boston College, 2017. http://hdl.handle.net/2345/bc-ir:107354.
In August of 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act and fulfilled his campaign promise to “end welfare as we know it.” Conventionally, the passage of welfare reform has been understood as a product of the ‘Republican Revolution,’ a backlash against government in which the party “took back” both chambers of Congress and discharged the ten provisions of the ‘Contract with America.’ This account treats welfare reform as a deeply political affair: President Clinton was thus put into the position of needing to pass conservative welfare reform. While this theory is not inaccurate, this senior honors thesis holds that it is incomplete. Therefore, any account of the passage of welfare reform needs to engage with the more complex dimensions of policy formation. I suggest that the PRWORA was signed into law by virtue of public opinion aligning with elite opinion. The latter required ‘dissensus politics’ to be overcome. I argue that this transpired, and further that a loose consensus was formed among the elites with respect to the contents of meaningful reform due to social science evidence emanating from the various states. Lastly, I contend that the ancillary features of the legislation were negotiated, for which the nation’s governors played an instrumental role. These matters reveal timeless truths about American politics and policy formation.