Another interesting angle on today’s war over welfare: Mitt Romney has again put GOP governors in a delicate position, in which they are caught between the need to defend their own policies and the need to avoid saying anything that detracts from Romney’s campaign message.
As many other reporters have been doing today, I asked the offices of the Republican governors in Utah and Nevada for a response to Romney’s new ad, which claims that Obama’s new waiver policy “guts” the Clinton welfare reform law and sends “welfare checks” to people who don’t work. The new Obama policy was a response to a request from governors — led by the leaders of those two states — for more flexibility in implementing it.
Asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the assertions in Romney’s ad, both offices declined to say, instead sticking to defendiing the policies their own states were pursuing under the waiver. They also would not answer when asked whether the White House, in rolling out the new policy, had simply given them what they wanted.
The statement from Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s office 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,” adding that the state had needed “flexibility to customize work-focused solutions.”
Meanwhile, the statement from Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval’s office maintained that its request to the White House was “not a request to weaken work requirements“ or a request for a “waiver to eliminate welfare work requirements for recipients.”
So neither office views the policy changes they are implementing in the wake of Obama’s new directive in the terms Romney has described. The natural follow up question: Do they believe the Obama policy change they requested would allow any states to weaken the work requirement? Both offices declined to comment on today’s charges and countercharges.
The Romney camp insists that the new Obama policy opens the door for a weakening of the work requirement because it allows states to prioritize the type of employment recipients get over their participation rate. But the policy explicity says wavers will only be granted to state proposals that make the realization of work goals more effective.
This isn’t the first time a Romney political imperative has forced GOP governors to do a delicate dance. Multiple Republican governors have found themselves caught between defending their states’ economic records and stepping on Romney’s message about economic doom in them.
More broadly, the Obama camp’s aggressive pushback on the Romney charge today highlights both their sense that the attacks could resonate — and the degree to which Dems now think anything that even hints at weakening the work requirement for welfare recipients is politically unthinkable.