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EDITORIAL / Class Welfare Leading sectors of wealth and privilege taste blood They think, with some reason, that they have the worlds population by the throat and are in a position to roll back the hated welfare state for the general population and everything that goes with it: health and safety standards labor rights and human rights generally indeed any infringement on their right to pursue “the vile maxim,” as Adam Smith described the goal of the masters: ‘All for ourselves and nothing for other people” Noam Chomsky, Z Magazine, 1995 arlier this spring, an experienced Dallas social services worker visiting the Capitol was asked what he be lieved to be the driving force behind the state’s determination to hand over social services to private corporations. Is it infatuation with computer technology? A determination to cut government spending, whatever the consequences? Or simply successful lobbying on the part of Lockheed, IBM, EDS, et al., in convincing the government to hand over the keys to the public treasury? “I wouldn’t swear to the exact percentages,” said the eligibility specialist \(who added that he fully expects to be laid off or demoted in whatever version of “welfare think it’s 1 percent computers, 49 percent tax cutsand 50 percent greed.” It’s worth keeping those estimates in mind while watching the continuing welfare reform political circus in Austin and Washington. The current act features the blustering of Governor Bush over the purported intransigence of the Clinton administration, which last month pointed out that what Texas wanted to do with its HES welfare programtransfer welfare eligibility decisions directly to private industrywas against federal law, which explicitly requires that such decisions be made by merit-system public employees. Since the primary goal of the TIES program is to save tax money “$10 million a month,” say the governor and his Health and Human Services Commissioner, Mike McKinneyby radically reducing personnel expenses \(i.e., by firing and ministration’s reluctance, in this instance, to evade the law, is damned inconvenient. In a May 5 letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, the Governor was defiant: “We will proceed with a different way to achieve our goals of saving taxpayers’ money and getting people the help they need to move from welfare to work.” But on May 13, Shalala’ s deputy Kenneth Thurm reiterated the administration’ s reasons for rejecting Bush’s request: “A significant non-State presence in the integrated enrollment process could result in some screening out of potential applicants by non-public employees.” That is \(as dozens of national public interest groups company will inevitably have a major incentive to “save taxpayers’ money” \(and Precisely what Bush’s “different way” might be is as yet undefined. He is momentarily restricted not only by the feds, but by pending state legislation which would return TIES to the ostensible 1995 intent of the state law: a computerization of application procedures and privatization of the related technology. Undeterred, Senator Phil Gramm has said he will block Clinton’s HHS appointments unless TIES is approved as is, while Kay Bailey Hutchison and a handful of right-wing Congressmen are looking for appropriations to amend to the same end. One D.C. source says the Republican tactics are largely for show, and that a group of Democratic Congressmen headed by Gene Green and Martin Frost believe they can keep Clinton from backsliding. “Publicly funded programs deserve public accountability,” they wrote their colleagues. Asked about the Republican fulminations in Washington, Houston Representative Garnet Coleman called them simply “inappropriate,” and added that if Gramm or Hutchison wished to serve in the Texas Legislature, they should run for office there. In Austin, a measure of sanity has returned, at least for the moment. As we go to press, it appears that the Legislature will reassume direct responsibility for the TIES program, through the Legislative Budget Board, a legislative oversight committee, and a series of public hearings around the state. These are important steps in the right direction; the current TIES plan, as Gonzalo Barrientos argued on the floor of the Senate, “has been shrouded in secrecy,” under the direction of McKinney and the privatization-hungry Council on Competitive Government. If the public hearings and LBB oversight do nothing else, they should slow down the privatizing avalanche promoted by Governor Bush and Commissioner McKinney. And what does not happen in Texas may not happen across the country at least not quite yet, as other state governments have been looking at the Texas case as a possible federal license to slash. But the welfare war is certainly not over, and neither is the propaganda war. Following the lead of Bush and Gramm, the mainstream press has obligingly framed the debate as pitting corporate efficiency against government timidity and “union bosses,” the preferred term for that handful of workers’ organizationslike the Texas State Employees Union which have refused to accede to the inexorable logic of “putting people back to work” by laying off thousands of experienced state employees and handing their jobs to computer kiosks, technicians, or minimum-wage private employees. If these “union bosses” and their allies among such stalwart defenders of social services as the Center for Public Policy Priorities, Catholic Charities, Public Citizen, Hispanic Families Coalition, United Cerebral Palsy, etc. etc.are indeed responsible for slowing down the nationwide assault on the living standards of ordinary working people that is officially designated as “welfare reform,” then more power to ’em. In defeating, even temporarily, the Texas TIES program, they’ve won one significant round. It will hardly be the last. M.K. JUNE 6, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5