The Romney campaign on Wednesday dispatched former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in an effort to further its claim that President Obama is seeking to relax welfare-to-work requirements — an argument not based on fact and one that former president Bill Clinton himself sought to debunk in a statement late Tuesday.
Gingrich, who played a central role in passage of the 1996 welfare reform law signed by Clinton, argued on an RNC conference call Wednesday morning that given that Obama’s “entire record as president has included increasing the number of people on food stamps ... our immediate assumption is that he is setting up a reduction in the work requirement.”
The Romney campaign’s argument is based on a July Health and Human Services memo that would only issue waivers to states that tighten their welfare-to-work requirements, not loosen them.
Obama administration officials have said that the memo was in part a response to requests from Republican governors for waivers.
Even so, national Republicans have seized on the memo in an effort to cast Obama as seeking to increase Americans’ dependency on government.
Gingrich — who made his criticism of Obama as “America’s best food stamp president” a central part of his unsuccessful GOP primary bid — on Wednesday doubled down on that claim, only this time as a surrogate for his onetime rival, Romney.
He noted that Obama as a state senator was “deeply opposed to the bill” and that many congressional Democrats voted against final passage.
“The fact is most people today agree this has been the most successful conservative reform in modern times,” he said of welfare reform.
Some top Democrats including Assistant House Democratic Leader James Clyburn (S.C.) accused Gingrich of seeking to capitalize on the race-related undertones of the welfare reform debate by employing the “food stamp president” line, and some Democrats have made similar claims in the latest debate.
Gingrich on Wednesday dismissed the notion that Republicans were using the welfare reform issue as a wedge when it comes to race, arguing that most Americans understand that more white than black Americans are on food stamps.
“To have an honest discussion about dependency doesn’t mean you’re a racist,” Gingrich said, contending that the ones to make the issue a matter of race were the “elite media.”
Gingrich also sought to draw attention to what he termed the “remarkable difference” between Obama and Clinton, calling the former president’s expected role introducing Obama at this summer’s Democratic convention “one of the most delicious examples of irony in modern times.”
“In many ways, Obama is the anti-Clinton,” he said, arguing that whereas Clinton moved to the center and worked with Congress, Obama has moved to the left and is seeking to bypass Congress through executive orders.
He added that he hopes Democratic convention viewers “realize how much weaker and less effective Obama is than the man who nominated him.”
Of the Romney campaign’s decision to seek to make welfare reform a campaign issue, Gingrich said he thought the presumptive GOP nominee has “picked an exactly clear vivid distinction between the two parties.”
Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement that Romney has “continued to make attacks today that he knows are both untrue and hypocritical.”
“Yesterday, independent news organizations and fact-checkers labeled Romney’s attacks on the Obama administration’s efforts to strengthen welfare reform as both a ‘drastic distortion’ and ‘dubious,’” Smith said. “And former President Clinton, the author of welfare reform, called Romney’s comments ‘not true’, especially in light of Romney’s previous support for a policy that would have eliminated time limits for welfare recipients, which would have ended welfare reform as we know it.”
She added: “If we take Mitt Romney at his word today that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, it becomes clear that he lacks the core strength and principles the nation needs in a President.”