Welfare debate gets back to work
August 8th, 2012
09:26 AM ET
6 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. The Contentious Otter

    This guy gets caught in the lie, and instead of admitting a Mea Culpa he doubles down on the lie which has been widely discredited – confident that the majority of die-hard Republican voters will believe anything that smears Obama at this point, and have no regard for actual fact or honest interpretations of legislation.

    How can you trust someone who chooses to operate that way to be the leader of our country?

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

    I remember back when Clinton passed the welfare to work law I was conducting job interviews for a large company that needed to hire 1000 workers in 1 year. Over half of the applicants had not worked in 5 years they had been drawing welfare and simply chose not to work. Once the law forced them off welfare they went out and got a job. Now Obama has rolled back the law and people can simply go back on the government teat with no need to get a job.

    August 8, 2012 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  3. 2020

    shame on you, Romney, Romney Campaign Spokesman Ryan Williams.


    August 8, 2012 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  4. Nan

    I was shocked when my Republican Grandma said she is so disgusted with the Republican party now that she's actually voting for Obama this year! Love it.

    August 8, 2012 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  5. Lizzie

    Cali girl, like Pres.Obama said the small businesses are doing just fine, we are on the right tract, UP, on welfare, more people out of work, 20 additional taxes comming in the new healthcare law.

    August 8, 2012 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  6. Montykoolaid

    Only minorities use welfare.


    It is so funny walking past the low income trailer park around here (you have to make under a certain amount to live there with really low rent) how many of them, despite being on financial assistance and social programs and food stamps and the works, have GOP signs in their lawn.

    It boggles the mind.

    August 8, 2012 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  7. flavoter

    Romney reminds me of the Progressive Commercial – Pants on Fire... Feels like a Suana in here!!
    Liar, Liar you know the rest.

    August 8, 2012 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  8. bluedogboy


    He shouldn't talk badly about all those Red states.

    August 8, 2012 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  9. Billy, NYC

    Where can I get a Romney Hood costume and a set of bow and arrows of LIES for Halloween this year?

    August 8, 2012 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  10. Jeff - Sarasota, Florida

    Ron Haskins, GOP Welfare Reform Architect, Blasts Mitt Romney Ad

    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.

    "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.

    So, we have a Republican, that actually was associated with welfare reform, saying Mitt is lying...

    That should pretty much convince ANYONE WITH A BRAIN that this is wrong and was a stupid ideal...

    August 8, 2012 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  11. Credible...

    Sure..let's trust the guy who told everyone directly, "I did not have relations with that woman!"

    August 8, 2012 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  12. we need a christian conservative government

    President Romney will fix this on day one. Welfare should only be for those willing to re-entry the work force. Those that make the choice to not work. Should be allowed to live in the streets. You welfare takers your judgement day is coming.

    August 8, 2012 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  13. John Robinson

    I want to be the first to say that i will not vote for Mitt Romney

    August 8, 2012 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  14. Vance

    Here is how out of touch Romney is. He has no idea of just how fast information travels these days. He is on the stump as if it were in the old days before social networking and the internet. Back in those days information and fact checking simply did not exist at the level they do today. He is racking up a huge library of distortions and flip flops. It's starting to wear his campaign down.

    Don;t get me wrong, the current administration has quite a few distortions as well, however Romney certainly takes the cake. This election will not be close. The media likes to promote a tight race, I am willing to bet it will be a landslide for President Obama.

    August 8, 2012 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  15. Malory Archer


    Now Obama has rolled back the law and people can simply go back on the government teat with no need to get a job.


    Sorry jony, but no matter how many times you repeat that lie, it will never be the truth. Why is it that the tighty rightes are all about states' rights until a Democrat tries to give authority to a state? What's up with that?

    August 8, 2012 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  16. lolo

    They keep saying President Obama does not want to talk about the economy, but looks to me that Mittens is doing the same thing. Your rich buddies got the message Mitt the wimp. Show us your tax returns for the last ten years. If you don;t you can hang it up being called Mr. President period. How long does it take for your CPA to revise them? With all of the money you have it should have been done lickety-split. When you do show them in October it will be already too late for you. How dare you think that you can become president without lifting a finger to earn it. This is what President Obama was talking about, but you turn it around to please your sheep and get their votes. You and your rich buddies are the ones on the welfare roll, getting all of the taxpayers dollars that you can.

    August 8, 2012 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  17. John Robinson

    We as people fail to realize he is sitting on money but we r not.

    August 8, 2012 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  18. just me

    Where are all the trickle down jobs? One only has to look overseas at the influx of wealthy American s money flowing into tax sheltered accounts to figure it out. America is bieng systematically bled dry through republican policies. It is slowly turning around with obama. I can't believe more than 2% of americans would even voye for this crook. By the way. Where are the weapons of mass destruction,that over 10000 poeple were murdered for? Where's our budget surplus? Highway funds? Etc. Pilfered by gop

    August 8, 2012 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  19. angryoldguy

    When people choose to willingly believe outright lies without question they will get what they vote for. I for one can not defend Mr. Romney nor will I make excuses for him or his unbelievable behavior. I can not trust this man as I am well aware of his fibs, flip-flops and lies.

    August 8, 2012 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  20. Free

    What a good point by the Obama spokeswoman Stephanie, except for the whole taking Bill Clinton's word for it portion of her statement. When Clinton was a Governor and the President he lied a lot even under oath. I'm pretty sure that sound reason would lead most rational & logical people to trust Saul's word for it, that the memo says what it says, and the proof of the matter is that it has not been revoked by the current administration.

    August 8, 2012 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  21. Lizzie

    Thinktank, the only one who used Romney for his personal political gain was the Mayor of London, Israel and Poland been a success for Romney. But then bowing before Sheiks telling the world that America is bad fits right into your philosophy.
    blue doughboy, so how come all those BLUE states and cities are broke, and need bailouts from the Federal Government.

    August 8, 2012 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  22. Four and The Door

    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.
    Your analysis doesn't go too deep into actual data, does it? But yes, tax cuts are a significant part of what the Romney Administration will use in their strategy to help the private sector create ( conservatively estimated ) 12 million jobs in his first term. In fact they do work predictably well when done correctly. Here's how in a very brief explanation since this is just a CNN.com board post. American companies are less burdened by tax costs and so their products cost less, they sell more and they can hire more people to make those increased production rates. It really does work.

    So now about GWB's tax cuts. They worked wonderfully too. But they were not the only factor on the economy. Remember the part where anyone who can fog a mirror at 3 inches could get a $250,000 loan to buy a house? Seriously, tax cuts work.

    August 8, 2012 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  23. Chipster

    It wouldn't occur to Romney-Bots to actually READ the memo, would it? No, of course, not. They just rinse and repeat, like good little-ditto heads.

    August 8, 2012 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  24. Dave Harris

    Republicans are more and more blatently 'just making stuff up', saying anything to distract from Romney's failure to pay taxes and outsourcing of jobs to China. Like the other day, claiming that Obama was trying to prevent servicemen from voting. Completely false. The holier-than-thou Republicans spend three hours a week in church and the rest of their waking hours lying, slandering their fellow man, and breaking the rest of their Ten Commandments.

    August 8, 2012 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  25. Jean

    I find it ironic that the party of small federal government, claiming to favor state solutions to problems, is criticizing an initiative to give states more flexibility in their methods of moving their own people from welfare to work.

    August 8, 2012 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
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