Romney accuses Obama of trying to ‘gut welfare reform’

Holly Bailey
The Ticket

DES MOINES—Mitt Romney unveiled a new line of attack against President Barack Obama Tuesday, accusing his Democratic opponent of backing a plan that would "gut welfare reform."

In a new television ad, Romney accuses Obama of "dropping work requirements" passed as part of President Bill Clinton's 1996 welfare overhaul in favor of simply passing out checks.

"Under Obama's plan, you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job," the Romney ad says. "They just send you your welfare check."

The 30-second spot, which is being jointly paid for by the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee, references a directive issued last month by the Department of Health and Human Services that aims to give states more flexibility in approving welfare applicants.

While Republicans immediately pounced on the directive, the issue is also notable because it gives Romney another chance to use Clinton against Obama. The ad begins with a photo of the former Democratic president, who has made headlines this year for criticizing Obama's political tactics—including his decision to attack Romney's role at Bain Capital.

The TV spot comes just weeks after the Romney campaign aired two ads featuring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the former president's wife, trashing her former rival Obama for false attacks during the 2008 Democratic primary.

Welfare is expected to be the issue of the day as Romney campaigns on Obama's home turf Tuesday. The GOP candidate is set to hold a rally in Elk Grove, Ill., before heading to a campaign fundraiser in Chicago. He'll head to Iowa later Tuesday, where he's expected to bring up welfare again at a campaign event on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Romney aides issued several memos attacking the new DHS directive, suggesting it will usher in a "return of a culture of dependency" and "undermines the very premise of welfare reform."

"It is an insult to Americans on welfare who are looking for an opportunity to build better lives for themselves," Lanhee Chen, Romney's policy director, wrote in a memo emailed to reporters. "It is a kick in the gut to the millions of hard-working, middle-class taxpayers struggling in today's economy."

But the Obama administration argues the plan simply gives states more power to help Americans struggling to make ends meet. Democrats have been quick to note that Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, signed a 2005 letter pressing Congress to approve measures that would allow states more flexibility in administering their welfare programs.

In his memo, Chen argued that Romney has consistently backed work requirements for welfare recipients—noting that Romney "vetoed efforts to weaken work requirements" and "pressed repeatedly to instead strengthen them." He pointed to comments Obama made against work requirements while he served in the Illinois Legislature to suggest the president is simply moving to usher in "old-school, big-government liberalism."