Romney blasting Obama on welfare rules while in Elk Grove Village, Ill. on Tuesday morning
Romney campaign ad released Tuesday
WASHINGTON--The Romney campaign launched a new attack on Tuesday--accusing President Barack Obama of being soft on welfare--because his administration potentially loosened work requirements installed under former President Bill Clinton for some states requesting waivers from federal rules. The Obama team said Romney distorted the new policy--because states had to pledge to increase job placements by 20 percent to get that waiver.
"We must include more work in welfare," Romney said Tuesday at a campaign stop at a factory in Elk Grove Village, a Chicago suburb. After his remarks, Romney headed downtown for two fund-raisers where he collected about $2 million.
The Romney team introduced the welfare issue in an orchestrated roll-out--backed by an ad, Romney's own remarks, and campaign briefings.
The Obama White House and campaign pushed back strongly.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at a briefing, "From a policy standpoint, let me say that this advertisement is categorically false, and it is blatantly dishonest. This administration's policy will strengthen the program by giving states the opportunity to employ more effective ways to help people get off welfare and into a job. Under this policy, governors must commit that their proposals will move at least 20 percent more people -- more people from welfare to work."
He added, "The attack is dishonest. It is false."
Given that at issue is a signature accomplishment of the Bill Clinton administration, the Obama campaign organized a conference call with John Podesta, Former White House Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton. He was joined by Stephanie Cutter, Deputy Campaign Manager, Obama for America; James Kvaal, Policy Director, Obama for America.
In Elk Grove Village Romney said, "One of the things that happened in the last couple of decades was one of the greatest bipartisan successes we've seen. And that was President Bill Clinton and Republicans coming together to reform welfare. They reformed welfare not to just save money. More importantly, they reformed welfare to encourage people to work. They did not want a culture of dependency to continue to grow in our country but instead wanted to have people to have the blessings of work.
"And by virtue of that bipartisan effort that put work back into welfare, you saw the welfare caseload cut in half and you also saw the number of people in poverty come down year after year after year. That was a great accomplishment. I hope you understand that President Obama in just the last few days has tried to reverse that accomplishment by taking the work requirement out of welfare.
"That is wrong. If I'm president I will put work back in welfare. There is nothing better than a good job to help lift a family, to allow people to be able to provide for themselves, and to end the spread of a culture of dependency. We must include more work in welfare.
"When I was Governor of my state, I fought time and again. My legislature passed a bill removing the work requirements at the level we'd had in the past. I vetoed that and then fought time and again to get more work requirements, to raise the work requirements of my state. Not because I don't think people who need help should be helped. I very much agree that those who are seriously disabled or are unable to work need to have the help of the rest of us. But those who can work ought to have the opportunity for a good job and if they are getting state assistance they ought to have the requirement for a good job. We will end a culture of dependency and restore a culture of good hard work."
Before Romney delivered his remarks, Romney spokesman Amanda Henneberg said in a statement, "Throughout his career, President Obama has demonstrated hostility for the historic welfare reforms passed by President Clinton and Republicans in Congress."
The Romney campaign sent out an audio clip of Obama--as an Illinois state senator-- in 1998 questioning Clinton linking work to getting government assistance. "I was not a huge supporter of the federal plan that was signed in 1996," Obama said in 1998.
Romney policy director Lanhee Chen said in a briefing memo, "for decades, welfare was simply an entitlement -- a government check in place of a paycheck. In 1996, in one of the great bipartisan policy achievements in recent memory, President Bill Clinton joined with a Republican Congress to end welfare as we knew it."
WHAT GOT THIS STARTED: On July 12, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would consider requests from states to issue waivers from federal work requirement to qualify for welfare--the official name is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
HHS said in the information memo (Read it HERE) the purpose of the new policy: "HHS is encouraging states to consider new, more effective ways to meet the goals of TANF, particularly helping parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment. Therefore, HHS is issuing this information memorandum to notify states of the Secretary's willingness to exercise her waiver authority under section 1115 of the Social Security Act to allow states to test alternative and innovative strategies, policies, and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families.
DOES THIS MEMO SAY OBAMA WANTS TO TAKE THE WORK OUT OF WELFARE, WHICH IS WHAT ROMNEY ASSERTS: No. It is giving states more flexibility--something Republicans usually like.
Said Democratic Governors Association spokesman Kate Hansen, "Turns out the Republican Governors Association - and 29 Republican governors - previously advocated for the same state-level welfare-to-work waivers that Mitt Romney is attacking President Obama over this morning."
OBAMA CAMPAIGN RESPONSE: "Mitt Romney continues to make statements that he knows are both untrue and hypocritical. The Obama administration, working with the Republican governors of states like Nevada and Utah, is giving states additional flexibility only if they move more people from welfare to work - not fewer. But as governor, Mitt Romney petitioned the federal government for waivers that would have let people stay on welfare for an indefinite period, ending welfare reform as we know it, and even created a program that handed out free cars to welfare recipients. These false and extremely hypocritical attacks demonstrate how Mitt Romney lacks the core strength and principles the nation needs in a President." -Lis Smith, campaign spokeswoman
MORE OBAMA RESPONSE: From the conference call with John Podesta, Former White House Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton; Stephanie Cutter, Deputy Campaign Manager, Obama for America; James Kvaal, Policy Director, Obama for America.
Cutter: "Romney released yet another hypocritical and false ad, this time claiming that President Obama weakened the welfare-to-work requirements. It's simply not true. The president recently gave states more tools they need to help move people from welfare to work as quickly as possible.
"Contrary to what Romney is alleging, President Obama's actions have strengthened, not weakened the welfare system's ability to move people from assistance to employment. In fact, Republican governors have been asking for these new tools for years."
More from Cutter: "So the impact of this policy is very clear: If states have good ideas of how to make welfare-to-work programs more effective, President Obama is willing to listen to them and grant states flexibility if they can move 20 percent more people into employment. But under no circumstances can this be used to undercut work requirements or to waiver time limits."
WHITE HOUSE RESPONSE: Carney said, "From a policy standpoint, let me say that this advertisement is categorically false, and it is blatantly dishonest. This administration's policy will strengthen the program by giving states the opportunity to employ more effective ways to help people get off welfare and into a job. Under this policy, governors must commit that their proposals will move at least 20 percent more people -- more people from welfare to work. And as we have made very clear under our policy, any request from any state that undercuts the work requirement in welfare reform will be rejected.
"Now, the ad is particularly outrageous as Governor Romney himself, with 28 other Republican governors, supported policies that would have eliminated the time limits in the welfare reform law and allowed people to stay on welfare forever. Those are not standards the president supports. It is also worth remembering that this waiver policy that we're discussing was specifically requested by two Republican governors, Governor Herbert of Utah and Governor Sandoval of Nevada, two men, I think you know, who are supporters of Governor Romney. And I don't think, if you ask them -- and I suggest you do -- that they believe that their interest in these waivers was guided by a desire to undermine work requirements. Their interest in this -- in these waivers was to achieve more flexibility for their states to innovate and to move more people from work to welfare... That's the purpose of this policy."
MY BOTTOM LINE: In this line of attack Romney hits Obama on stiffing a bipartisan deal while at the same time injecting a new subject---welfare and work--into the campaign conversation--taking attention away from Romney and Bain, his taxes and release of his tax returns.
A political byproduct is that the Romney team is also trying to drive a wedge between Obama and Clinton--who is very popular and who will keynote a night at the Democratic convention, stump and fund-raise for him.