ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Ill. – Mitt Romney sought to inject welfare as an issue in the presidential campaign here Tuesday, accusing President Obama of dismantling federal welfare reform and creating a “culture of dependency.”
The presumptive Republican nominee charged the Obama administration with effectively reversing the popular bipartisan welfare reform signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton by allowing waivers to states from welfare work requirements.
“That is wrong. If I’m president, I’ll put work back in welfare,” Romney said, campaigning in this suburb just outside Obama’s hometown of Chicago. He added, “We will end the culture of dependency and restore a culture of good hard work.”
Romney’s comments come as his campaign makes a play for middle-class voters with a new offensive focused on welfare. Earlier Tuesday, the Romney campaign rolled out a new 30-second television advertisement, “Right Choice,” that says, “Obama guts welfare reform.”
This is Romney’s latest attempt to cast Obama as a big-government liberal and to drive a wedge between the president and the popular legacy of one of his Democratic predecessors, Clinton.
The Obama campaign responded by noting that in 2005, then-Massachusetts governor Romney and most other Republican governors requested state waivers similar to those the Obama administration began allowing with the Department of Health and Human Services’ July 12 announcement.
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 wanted more flexibility from cumbersome federal requirements and paperwork. In order to secure a waiver, however, states must show their welfare programs will increase jobs placements by 20 percent, Cutter said.
“No plan that undercuts the goal of moving people from welfare to work will be approved, and it will not be approved if it weakens or undercuts or avoids time limits on welfare assistance,” she said.
In a memo to reporters Tuesday morning, Romney campaign policy director Lanhee Chen tried to cast Obama as an advocate for “big-government liberalism.”
“Unfortunately, not everyone was enthusiastic about welfare reform,” Chen writes. “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 that linked welfare to work. 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.”
During the conference call with reporters, James Kvaal, the Obama campaign’s policy director, said Romney advocated far more wide-ranging changes to the welfare law in 2005 while he was governor of Massachusetts. Then, Romney and other governors signed a letter endorsing a proposal from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) that would have eliminated time limits for how long people could remain on welfare without finding a job.
On the same conference call, John Podesta, former chief of staff to President Clinton, said the Obama administration was “trying to administer the [welfare] program in a tougher economic condition and trying to accomplish the goal of giving people the dignity of a job.”
Obama’s strategy is “consistent with President Clinton’s theory of the case,” Podesta said, noting that he spoke with Clinton on Tuesday and the former president agreed.
Of Romney, Podesta added: “I’m always happy when people embrace the new Democratic policies of President Clinton. I just wish they would tell the truth when doing so.”
Staff writer David Nakamura contributed to this report.