Almost immediately after he chose Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney promised a more substantive campaign focused on serious issues. This was the emphasis when he and Ryan talked to Bob Schieffer on 60 Minutes last night — “This is a man who’s also very analytical.” — and it’s what he emphasized on the trail this weekend. On Twitter, Romney senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom tweeted an apparently crowd-pleasing line from the Republican nominee—“Mr President take your campaign out of the gutter and let’s talk about issues.”
Given this, it’s ironic that Romney would begin this week — essentially, the second phase of his campaign — with another dishonest attack on President Obama’s welfare policies.
His latest ad, “Long History,” begins with a quote from then-state senator Barack Obama in 1998, explaining his opposition to the Clinton-era welfare reform bill, “I was not a huge supporter of the federal program that was signed in 1996.” The ad then repeats the charge that Obama has ended welfare’s work requirements, “On July 12th, Obama quietly ended work requirements for welfare. You wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job.”
Mitt Romney’s ad is dishonest. Far from ending work requirements, the administration has allowed states more flexibility when it comes to fulfilling them. The memo in question, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, stipulates that states can receive a waiver as long as their programs achieve the same work goals. The hope is that, with space to try new approaches, more recipients can be placed into jobs.
Romney used this same line last week — “Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work or wouldn’t have to train for a job, they would just send you your welfare check” — and was promptly criticized by all sides for his mendacity. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Ron Haskins, a former Republican congressional aide who helped craft welfare reform, said that “There’s no plausible scenario under which it [the change] really constitutes a serious attack on welfare reform.” Former president Bill Clinton, who signed the bill, called Romney’s claims “not true”:
“We need a bipartisan consensus to continue to help people move from welfare to work even during these hard times, not more misleading campaign ads,” Clinton said.
The Post’s fact checker, Glenn Kessler, gave the original ad “four Pinocchios” for its misrepresentation of the HHS policy, and the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s Factcheck.org wrote that the ad “distorts the facts.”
It’s a blatant misrepresentation of the administration’s position, and it belies Romney’s promise to run a substantive campaign, as well as his declaration that campaigns shouldn’t run ads fact-checkers say are false. Lying about your opponents record, getting called on it, and continuing to lie isn’t something you do when you’re striving for the higher road. It simply emphasizes the extent to which the Romney campaign has lost all concern for the truth, in favor of an approach that favors distortions, as long as they “work.”