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. Larry L

    Four and The Door

    "Mitt Romney and Bain Capital saved tens of thousands of good American jobs so far doing it the old fashioned way. By investing, creating sensible business plans and by running companies responsibly."
    -----------------------------------------------------
    As always you're delusional. Last month's Vanity Fair had a great article (with references) explaining the role of Romney and Bain Capital in acquiring profitable companies, loading them with debt, cashing out with accounting slight-of-hand, then throwing the employees to the street w/o a pension or even a severance package. The fat-cat investors, including Romney, got richer and the working people got screwed.

    August 8, 2012 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  2. BCasero

    Day one lies didn't work so Romney continues to lie on day two. Same Mitt, different day.

    August 8, 2012 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  3. batjones

    CNN – The problem with this story is that it relies on the analysis of Politifact. I thought CNN had its own reporters. CNN – Why dont you have one of your thousands of reporters obtain and read the Administration's memo, and then tell us what the change in policy is? Then confirm or reject Romney's claims. This type of he said-she said reporting does not provide added value to society.

    August 8, 2012 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  4. Jules

    Carl, here's the reality, a lie only has to be a little different than the truth to be a lie. Personally, I cannot see how anyone with a brain will vote for someone with so little regard for the truth.

    August 8, 2012 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  5. Retired Army Officer

    Romney lied? Really?

    This just can't be......he seems so......honest......like all those Wall Street gentlemen.

    Must be some kind of......mistake........again.

    August 8, 2012 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  6. ryan

    Willard lies and hides.

    August 8, 2012 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  7. cali girl

    Robmey has already stated many things, like "the poor don't need help". He wants to cut Head Start programs. If he makes those two statements my bet would be that Robmey will make major cuts to low income families.

    August 8, 2012 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  8. alleygator

    In Romney's case, it would be "Liar, liar, Garmies on Fire."

    August 8, 2012 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  9. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    @v-mag

    How would you expect someone with a healthcare background to handle a factory or manufacturing job? How do you expect a truck driver to administer healthcare to a patient? How do you expect a clerk or a retail worker to work at GM, Ford or Chrysler? Many skilled and unskilled workers were layed off during the recession and as new jobs resurface, these people would return to work gradually. Some of these people have returned to school to learn a new trade or to obtain the necessary skills and training to change careers so they can find work in a diversified and ever changing economy. The only people sitting down on their hinies and living off welfare are the folkes in red states.

    August 8, 2012 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  10. fed up with politics

    When George W was president we had a Democratic majority in the House and a Democratic majority in the Senate and they are what led this country into the difficulties which we now face. Obama has had near four years to do something to straighten out the mess yet in that time all he has done is golf, point the blame at Bush, and campaign to raise money for his re-election. He and the Democratic majority have failed to pass even a simple budget. Wake up and face the facts: Obama has no idea how to govern and he has no idea how to get this country back on track!

    August 8, 2012 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  11. Duke

    This world has to move forward. We must get the Teaparty out of our government. Anyone who pledged to Grover and is pulled around by the nose by foxnews, Kochs, NRA, and the bible thumpers must go. We are letting a very few people control half our government. They uses white rage to control us because we are a majority in the country. They're trying to split us apart just like they did in the 60's all the while robbing us behind our back. This Welfare Queen attack has been tried before and it's even trashier than ever.

    August 8, 2012 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  12. lolo

    The rethugs do not get it that the rich are the ones on welfare, using our taxpayers dollars for themselves. If the middle class is taken away we all lose and this is the part they don't understand. You see the people who had the manufacturing jobs were asking for more pay , so Romney and his buddies decided to ship the jobs overseas and pay them peanuts and fill their pockets with the money they saved. This is why I am so confused about the so called chistian conservatives and Tea partiers. They seem to me not to care about all of this. Their only focus is to make President Obama a one term president because of his race. Mittens has lied, cheated and took their jobs away and they still don't see it. Education is a terrible thing to waste and the repug/TPer's have proven this point. They will be calling on God seriously if Mitt Romney wins the election.

    August 8, 2012 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  13. on StreetWise

    Romney is Dub'ya on steroids and would turn this whole nation into a offshore colony, thanks to king george.

    August 8, 2012 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  14. Q

    This will all be cleared up soon at the debates. You know he is going to be asked about these statements and how he supports them...

    August 8, 2012 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  15. cyg

    So what is the issue Mitt/GOP? You wanted this country to be a country of fat cat lazy people, doing nothing but spending money but having no way of earning it – you certainly weren't concerned about our money when you outsourced our jobs over that 8 year period no one wants to remember. So if they are sitting around spending welfare checks – that should be exactly what you want, RIGHT? Make up your mind GOP!

    August 8, 2012 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  16. Nodack

    It's been proven that negative ads work. They don't have to true at all. You can make whatever you want and just sling as much mud as you want and no matter how many independent fact checks prove them as lies it doesn't matter, people will believe it they want to.

    August 8, 2012 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  17. Woman In California

    The truth is when a man starts lying he CAN'T stop and so is the case of Willard M. Romney.

    August 8, 2012 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  18. They ought to change from the elephant to the hippo...

    Leona Romney bending the truth?!?! Almost hard to believe... OK, maybe not so much, considering he was already labelled a liar in the primary by his Republican opponents. Show us the tax returns Mitt!!

    August 8, 2012 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  19. Chumlee

    What CNN – ending your bias towards the Democrats? This is only one small Romney lie you have
    printed. When are you going to start being unbiased, and report factual information. When are you
    going to stop giving MitWit so much print space?

    August 8, 2012 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  20. Tinktank

    Desperate to deflect questions about taxes or Bain Capitol,
    Romneys team sent him overseas for a week.
    There he put his foot in his mouth in England and Israel,
    and returned home with his tail between his legs.

    Romney, now cornered and so desperate to get the spotlight off himself
    and on to Obama has gone off course.
    Romney now finds himself playing defense.

    Short of some major scandal against Obama
    (F&F didnt work, did it ?)
    The election is now Obama's to lose.

    Cant wait for November.

    August 8, 2012 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  21. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    ...And it is precisely because I don't "pretend" to be either a Mormon nor a very good Christian that I can say without qualms or hesitation, and beyond the shadow of any doubt, wholeheartedly and enthusiastically: KMA Mittens!
    (Thanks Wire).

    August 8, 2012 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  22. DisappointedinObama

    the more I see and hear of Obama, the less I like him.
    He's dishonest and conniving and will try anything to get his way.
    His negative advertising is distasteful and full of inaccurancies.
    He can't tout his own accomplishments, so he 's trying to turn everyone's attention away by tearing down Romney.
    Hopefully, people will be intelligent enough to see outside the box that mainstream media is creating, but I'm not sure that will happen.

    August 8, 2012 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  23. Jrdz

    Keep tell more lies Mittens one of them might stick. The only good thing about Mittens is sooner or later he puts his foot back into his mouth. Keep gaffing its the only thing your really good at.

    August 8, 2012 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  24. Tinisha

    Four and the Door, since you are so sure the MItt Romney knows what he is doing, can you please tell me how he is going to create this 12 milliiion jobs. Tax Cuts do not create jobs because if they did GW Bush should have had record setting job growth under his administration and he did not. You you must understand how the economy works. Well do you understand that we are a supply and demand society and if there is no demand there is no need for business to supply any products. So again I ask what is MItt Romeny going to do in order to increase the demand for US products in America and the world. Cutting coporate taxes, investments taxes and increasing military spending is not going to do it. What other plans does Mitt have that would create the demand that this country needs. Ill be waiting for the answer.

    August 8, 2012 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  25. Chazz

    Repubs always try to put on a coded Black Face on welfare when the fact has been and remains that white folk are the largest recipients of welfare and food stamps in America.

    August 8, 2012 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
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