But the charge drew immediate push back from the Obama campaign, and a direct rebuke of Romney by Clinton himself, who called it false.
Romney’s comments come as his campaign makes a play for middle-class voters with a new offensive focused on welfare. Earlier Tuesday, his team rolled out a new 30-second television advertisement, “Right Choice,” that says, “Obama guts welfare reform.”
The spot is Romney’s latest attempt to cast Obama as a big-government liberal and to drive a wedge between the president and the legacy of the popular Clinton. Experts on the law, however, said the changes were consistent with calls from governors for lighter federal regulations and intended to ease the burden of states seeking flexibility.
“That is wrong. If I’m president, I’ll put work back in welfare,” said Romney, who was campaigning in this suburb just outside Obama’s home town of Chicago. He added, “We will end the culture of dependency and restore a culture of good, hard work.”
The Department of Health and Human Services announced on July 12 that it would consider requests for waivers from states seeking more latitude in administering Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The centerpiece of the 1996 Clinton legislation, TANF established work requirements and time-limited benefits for recipients. Although caseloads dropped sharply as the economy boomed in the late 1990s, state officials and welfare experts say tougher financial times and overly stringent rules have stalled progress.
Lanhee Chen, the Romney campaign’s policy director, said in a memo Tuesday that the rules changes were a sign that “not everyone was enthusiastic about welfare reform.”
“For instance, a man named Barack Obama took to the floor of the Illinois State Senate to announce his opposition. A devoted believer in old-school, big-government liberalism, Mr. Obama had no interest in embracing the welfare reform package,” Chen wrote. “Now as president, with an economy struggling, an election looming, and a dispirited liberal base in need of encouragement, he has decided to turn back the clock.”
Obama campaign officials pushed back hard. In a conference call with reporters, deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter blasted the ad as “hypocritical and false.”
She said the administration agreed to allow states to apply for waivers after hearing from governors, including Republicans Gary Herbert of Utah and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, who sought relief from cumbersome federal requirements and paperwork. To secure a waiver, however, states must show that their welfare programs will increase job placements by 20 percent, Cutter said.