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. Tom

    Swift boats...

    August 8, 2012 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  2. Martha in CF

    Romney is so out of touch with America. He should really move closer to his foreign bank accounts....His campaign has gotten so childish-It is such a joke.
    Romney doesn't know anything about welfare.......I don't know how he could ever comment on it....

    August 8, 2012 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  3. Ron

    The sad thing is that if you have enough money, and the Romney campaign does, you can repeat the lies over and over until people believe them. Totally disgusting. Not to mention that it is another flip-flop for Romney.

    August 8, 2012 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  4. Namemersh

    Romney will say anything

    August 8, 2012 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  5. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Mitt Romney said as President he would create 12 million jobs by end of his first term. However, I have a question for Mitt Romney...Are those 12 million jobs going to include teachers, firefighters and police officers? During the republican debate, Mitt held the firm position that America doesn't need more teachers and he went on to advocate smaller class sizes and less teachers. During this same period, he argued that we don't need more police officers and firefighters. In February 2011, Los Angeles school board sent layoff notices to 5,000 teachers and it was estimated that an additional 7,300 more school distric employees face possible lay offs in California. Let's face it Mitt, these teachers, fire fighters and police officers went to school and got an education and persued careers in their field of study. So since you are against their occupations, as President what would you do to employ them Americans? Or would you presume that their is a safety net for them too?

    August 8, 2012 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  6. Angela

    Liar liar pants on fire! Now let us see those taxes!

    August 8, 2012 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  7. Brian

    Romney's just trying to change the conversation. Unfortunately, he's going to have to debate Obama at some point. And Obama is going to thoroughly destroy him, on live TV. Romney has lied and distorted the truth way too many times, just to keep the focus away from his personal tax situation.

    August 8, 2012 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  8. carly

    The only thing that the Romney campaign can do is lie, lie, lie because they have nothing real to run on and Romney is just a panderer with zero to offer the American voter.

    August 8, 2012 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  9. Steve

    Mitt lies and Conservatives are okay with that.

    August 8, 2012 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  10. Bill from GA

    This is exactly why mitts won't give details of his planned policies: The media is always criticizing him.

    Poor mitts. Just vote for him because he's not Obama; that's all he has going for him.

    Unless you have a brain and appreciate our President.

    August 8, 2012 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  11. Mark

    Romneyhood will never happen, even though it is a much better catch phrase than Obamaloney (too many syllables for most of the GOP base). Democrats want his taxes like the GOP wanted Obama's birth certificate, and we haven't seen the taxes because they will destroy the Republican campaign. Even if the returns are released it will tie him back to post 1999 Bain so this is a lose lose and everyone knows it. This issue will keep the GOP on their heels and grind them into the ground by fall.

    August 8, 2012 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  12. nash

    This guy has lied constantly, lies about his taxes, lies about his time at Bain, lies about his overseas accts., lies about his health care plan, lies in his ads, from day one he has LIED!!

    August 8, 2012 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  13. Tony

    Demwit,
    There is no evidence that Romney paid taxes for ten years. But there is evidence that Romney requested waiver from the Obama administration on the federal welfare-to-work program. Oh wait...

    August 8, 2012 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  14. vbscript2

    "The sad thing is that if you have enough money, and the Romney campaign does, you can repeat the lies over and over until people believe them. Totally disgusting."

    True. And the same goes for the Obama campaign. Saying that Romney didn't pay taxes for ten years? Do they really think people are stupid enough to believe that?

    August 8, 2012 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  15. NoLongerRepublican

    First he claims that the president doesn't want military folk to vote, now this.....Whats sad is that there are people out there ignorant enough to beleive Romney hood lies. smh...

    August 8, 2012 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  16. Four and The Door

    Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer
    Mitt Romney said as President he would create 12 million jobs by end of his first term. However, I have a question for Mitt Romney...Are those 12 million jobs going to include teachers, firefighters and police officers?
    ________________________________________________________________________________________________
    Absolutely! Think about it. The best thing for the federal government's ability to increase payrolls will be for the economy to start growing and increasing government revenues. That's what Mitt Romney can do. Obama has tried for over 3 1/2 years now and just doesn't have the right strategy. The economy is very difficult to understand if you have such limited exposure to how it works. Mitt Romney understands well how the economy works.

    August 8, 2012 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  17. Ken in NC

    How can a man as rich a Romney know anything about welfare or how it works. Welfare alone works harder than Romney has ever worked. All his campaign nows how to do is twist the truth into an outright lie. he is good at that and buying "Hardware Stuff" and "Groceries Stuff".

    August 8, 2012 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  18. rob

    The fact remains that welfare refiorm worked, it helped reduce the rolls by close to 50%. Arguing about the language of the new directive doesn't change the fact that it is an attempt to make it easier for people to remain on welfare without giving them incentives to re-train and re-enter the work force.

    August 8, 2012 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  19. Romney=NO plan

    @wm Scot

    If the Deomocrats can stay on message and continue to show that the republicans will do anything to get their men in office perhaps the folks will start to see the truth. We really need to get some moderates in congress and kill this radical tea party group !

    **************************************************************
    Great post! I agree with you 100%. I'm a Democrat who has voted republican in the past and the TEA PARTY OBSTRUCTIONIST MUST GO!!!

    August 8, 2012 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  20. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Is Romney still a Mormon or was renouncing the tenets of his religion part of the "sell-out" package?
    I mean for someone who touts hsi religion so much he sure as hell has fallen off of that bandwagon.
    Then again, I'm not a Mormon so maybe lying is part and parcel of their faith.

    August 8, 2012 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  21. hypatia

    Romney can't help himself: give him a topic and he'll get his flip flops on.

    August 8, 2012 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  22. Jeff - Sarasota, Florida

    2 things I find interesting about this...

    All the fact checks deemed the Romney ad as being wrong and misleading... So, first, why do his campaign people still try to push it as truth and secondly, why do so many people still believe the ad...

    I can only figure it like this... First, the campaign people are basically paid whors that only have loyalty to whoever is paying them... And secondly, the others who still believe this that aren't getting paid are just too ignorant to know any better...

    The paid whor I suppose I can kinda understand, although I can't imagine any amout being enough to go on a national program and sell my intelligence out to something that isn't true...

    As far as the ignorant goes, it saddens me to see so many of them...

    August 8, 2012 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  23. FLIndependent

    Okay, all you Repubs that constantly push for state rights, what is your complaint here? President Obama has gone along more with what Repubs used to condone than his own party and you all still hate him and say his policies are bad. This is the same as what he did about the health insurance exchanges in that he has allowed states to set up their own exchanges as long as they cover the outlined basic healthcare provisions set by the Affordable Care Act. However, if they choose to not do so (as our idiot gov here in FL) then the Federal government will set up the exchanges for them. The Repubs needs to stop all the lies...we can see through them!!!

    August 8, 2012 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  24. Anonymous

    looks like he is reaching out to the WV votes on this one

    August 8, 2012 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  25. rob

    Its very sad to see the Obama campaign resorting to the lowest kind of attacks and smears. They and the Dems have nothing to run on.

    Very very SAD

    August 8, 2012 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
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