Welfare debate gets back to work
August 8th, 2012
09:26 AM ET
2 years ago

Welfare debate gets back to work

(CNN) - The debate over Mitt Romney's latest welfare claims against President Barack Obama continued Wednesday, with both campaigns releasing dueling web videos and spokespersons from each team holding their ground in the snowballing battle.

An independent fact-checking organization, PolitiFact, rated a new Romney ad as "Pants on Fire" Tuesday, following calls from the Obama campaign labeling the spot as "dubious" and "completely false."

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The ad attacks a recent Obama administration directive issued via memo on July 12. The directive allows individual states–which have received a waiver from the Health and Human Services Department–to experiment with changes to their federally-funded welfare-to-work programs. The intent, according to the directive, is to "challenge states to engage in a new round of innovation that seeks to find more effective mechanisms for helping families succeed in employment."

The program affected by the directive – the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) – was created by the bipartisan welfare reform law signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1996. That measure was considered a win for conservatives, who long pushed for a provision that required work training for Americans receiving government assistance.

In Tuesday's ad from the Romney campaign, a narrator points to Clinton's achievement, and claims Obama's directive would "gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements."

"Under Obama's plan, you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check," the narrator continues. "And welfare to work goes back to being plain old welfare."

Romney doubled down on the welfare charge Wednesday, highlighting how when Clinton signed the bipartisan welfare reform bill into law in 1996, then-Illinois State Senator Obama opposed it.

"Back at that time, then-Senator Obama was opposed to putting work together with welfare," Romney said during a campaign speech in Des Moines. "Just a few days ago, he put that original intent in place. With a very careful executive action he removed the requirement of work from welfare. It is wrong to make any change that would make America more of a nation of government dependency."

Romney neglected to mention that Obama had changed his position since then. When he ran for president in 2008, Obama said he supported the landmark legislation that required work training for Americans receiving government assistance.

"It worked better than I think a lot of people anticipated," Obama said at Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback forum four years ago. "And one of the things that I am absolutely convinced of is that we have to have work as a centerpiece of any social policy. Not only because, ultimately people who work are going to get more income. But the intrinsic dignity of work, the sense of purpose."

Newt Gingrich, who worked with Clinton to pass the reform in 1996, further bolstered the welfare offensive Wednesday on behalf of Romney. On a conference call with reporters, the former House speaker hurled charges at the Obama administration, saying it was using "radical" methods to alter the welfare-to-work program as part of a liberal agenda.

He also used the opportunity to drive a wedge between the 44th and 42nd presidents.

"There's just a remarkable difference between Clinton and Obama," Gingrich said. "In many ways, Obama is the anti-Clinton."

But Obama's campaign, the White House and former President Bill Clinton all pounced on the new Romney commercial Tuesday, saying the claims were false and misleading.

But Obama's campaign, the White House and former President Bill Clinton all pounced on the ad Tuesday, saying the claims were false and misleading.

"The Romney ad is especially disappointing because, as governor of Massachusetts, he requested changes in the welfare reform laws that could have eliminated time limits altogether," Clinton wrote in a statement, making reference to a 2005 letter signed by Romney and 28 other Republican governors to then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, calling for greater state flexibility in managing their welfare programs.

Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul, however, indicated Wednesday the ad would not be going away anytime soon and defended the campaign's claims.

"It President Obama didn't want people to think that he was going to waive the central worker requirement in welfare reform, his administration shouldn't have written a memo saying it was going to waive the central worker requirement in welfare reform," Saul said on CNN's "Starting Point."

She continued: "They can issue blog posts, and have surrogate statements saying that's not what they meant, but the memo still stands and hasn't been revoked."

PolitiFact, however, suggests the Romney campaign misinterpreted the "waiver" provision outlined in the HHS memo.

Translating the document, Liz Schott, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told PolitiFact that the memo meant, "If you can do a better job connecting people to work, we would consider waiving certain parts of the performance measures and use alternate measures."

Further doubling-down on their claim, Romney's team released a new web video Wednesday morning, which argues Obama is "taking the work out of welfare." It points to top Democrats–including Sen. Carl Levin, Sen. John Kerry, and Vice President Joe Biden–who supported the 1996 reform bill, but the campaign states that Obama recently "dismantled" the program.

Obama's re-election team also launched a new web video Wednesday, citing reports and fact-checks that label the Romney claims as untrue. It highlights the part of the new directive requiring that governors "must commit that their proposals will move at least 20% more people from welfare to work" in exchange for more flexibility granted by the waiver.

Speaking on CNN's "Starting Point," Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter sharply took issue with Romney spokeswoman Saul and her comments earlier in the program.

"I think that I would take President Clinton's word over Andrea Saul's word any day," Cutter said, pointing out the 20% requirement in the new directive. "She apparently hasn't read the memo, but that's not unusual for the Romney campaign. They don't care about the facts."

– CNN's Ashley Killough and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.


Filed under: 2012 • HHS • Mitt Romney • President Obama
soundoff (348 Responses)
  1. WayneKilmer

    The sad aspect of this are the individuals, like demwit and jpmichigan, who believe the misrepresentations of the Romney Hood campaign.

    August 8, 2012 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  2. Really? Really?!?

    "They don't care about the facts." At least that is what a credible source told me. I won't tell you his name, but trust me, he exists...I am not making any of this up.

    August 8, 2012 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  3. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Let me see, I'm supposed to trust a party that lied to the American people about bogus WMD's in Iraq, murdered thousands of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, wrecked our economy and injected Jim Crow back into our democracy? I don't think so.

    August 8, 2012 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  4. Anonymous

    Mitt send all the jobs to China ,I wonder why people are on Welfare

    August 8, 2012 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  5. Independent Voter

    Obviously trying to distract from the tax return issue with outlandish claims. Don't take the bait Obama team. Don't go on the defence, thats what they want.

    August 8, 2012 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  6. Anonymous

    Nightmare if Mitt wins he will send the rest of are jobs to China we will all be on welfare

    August 8, 2012 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  7. ghostriter

    Mitt Romney's latest television ad attacks the Obama administration for announcing a "plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements." It's a strong allegation, but according to a former Republican congressional aide who was key to crafting welfare reform in the 1990s, it's also not true.

    "There's no plausible scenario under which it really constitutes a serious attack on welfare reform," Ron Haskins, who is now co-director of the Brookings Institution's Center on Children and Families, said in an interview with NPR that aired on Wednesday.

    Haskins spent 14 years on the staff of the House Ways and Means Committee's Human Resources Subcommittee, first as welfare counsel to the Republican staff, then as the subcommittee’s staff director. In 2002, he was President George W. Bush's senior adviser on welfare policy.

    August 8, 2012 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  8. 4 More Years!!!

    What do you expect? Mittens has nothing else to run on!!!

    August 8, 2012 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  9. ghostriter

    As The Huffington Post's Arthur Delaney has pointed out, this waiver policy was sought out by Republican governors. In a release defending its waiver request from conservative backlash last month, the office of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) said, "Utah's request for a waiver stems from a desire for increased customization of the program to maximize employment among Utah’s welfare recipients."

    In 2005, as Massachusetts governor, Romney also signed a letter in support of a waiver policy - a fact left out of his new TV ad.

    August 8, 2012 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  10. ltnet356

    Mit should release his tax returns the day after Oblamo unseals all of the college records.
    Funny though, there is a push to safegaurd the WMD's in Iraq so they don't end up in Syeria.

    August 8, 2012 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  11. Dave Jaipersaud

    Here is another example of Republican hypocrisy. Over the years they have been pushing for more State control of education, healthcare, social security, welfare etc. Now that the President has given the States more control of how they manage welfare, the Republicans are saying he is promoting a culture of dependency. Are that just plain dumb? The changes to the program proposed by the President puts that power in the hands of Governors and State legislators in determining who qualifies for benefits, so how can they blame the President for fostering a culture of dependence. If anything, the Governors and State legislators would be the ones to blame if that culture develops.

    August 8, 2012 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  12. Paul Williamson

    Every day I despise Bishop Romney more and more -do all Mormons lie? If so, they inherited the lying and fairy tales from Joseph Smith, the most flagrant liar of all time. The Golden Book of Mormon got lost? Smith said "I must have misplaced it"

    August 8, 2012 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  13. Who said Palin is bright?

    Mitt Robme is a LIAR and a COWARD his record has been firing people and taking their life work away add THIEF and TAX dodger also. Who is he America?

    August 8, 2012 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  14. Former Republican

    Romney Hood should focus on what he is good at: corporate welfare, try focussing on something you know all too much about.

    August 8, 2012 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  15. Logic N LA

    At least this article tells what Romney claims and points out that it is a lie after investigation. ghow often are we treated to this sort of appropriate journalism?

    August 8, 2012 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  16. Lisa N

    These types of lies will keep coming...anything to take the focus off Mitt's tax returns. When you don't follow the tradition your FATHER started, YOU ARE HIDING SOMETHING BIG. I don't think it's criminal at all, just utterly unelectable.

    August 8, 2012 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  17. v4865

    Wasnt he THE one who said "if you want free stuff vote for the OTHER Guy "after leaving the black convention ...we are not stupid OK..what's your VISION FOR THIS COUNTRY ...NOT JUST FOR THE 1% THAT'S BACKING YOU ...(millionaires and BILLIONAIRES)

    August 8, 2012 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  18. mcskadittle

    This just shows that Mit will do whatever he is told, a competent candidate would have looked into the allegation made in the add and found it to be false, but not mit knows it to false and continues to use it

    August 8, 2012 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  19. alpg49

    I can't wait till the VP debate. Biden will unmask Romney.

    August 8, 2012 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  20. zaggs

    Also dncfact....er...politifact.com seems to rest their entire conclusion not on what the memo says, because they admit it says exactly what Romney says, but rather on what the stated purpose is. They also want to rely on the idea that since their expert said the sec of HHS cannot change work requirements, that instead it will come down to the courts. Just a normal pathetic politifact spin job.

    August 8, 2012 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  21. adam

    Romney has NOTHING to hide.

    That's why he has bank accounts overseas in places like Antigua, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Dubai and Switzerland.

    That's why he won't release his tax returns.

    August 8, 2012 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  22. Jill

    Romney knows his pants are on fire on this one. He just won't state the truth and it makes him look weak. Many governors, including Republican governors, have been using this State flexibility in welfare programs.

    August 8, 2012 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  23. Jackson

    And now it is coming to light that the waiver for the work program was requested by REPUBLICANS....the Governors of Utah and Nevada, who wanted a little more freedom to tailor the plan to fit their states' needs.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH

    Oh Mitt, when will you learn!

    August 8, 2012 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  24. Morgan Hill

    Poor romneyhood, all he has left to stand on are all his LIES! He has no original ideas or policies for moving our country forward so he relies on his LIES. Romney LIES, LIES, LIES! The man is a dangerous LIAR!

    August 8, 2012 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  25. lou

    Des Moines Register had this as lead article today. Iowa went from having 40,000 people on welfare in the 1990's down to 18,000 today. For supposedly being a good numbers guy, Romney's way off on his analysis on this issue.

    August 8, 2012 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
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