Romney: ‘I will put work back in welfare’

Mitt Romney went after President Barack Obama in his own backyard on Tuesday, accusing his Democratic opponent of gutting bipartisan welfare reforms signed into law by former President Bill Clinton.

Speaking at a manufacturing company in Elk Grove, Ill., just outside Chicago, the presumptive Republican nominee accused Obama of trying to "reverse the accomplishment" of Clinton's welfare reform efforts, which he called "one of the greatest bipartisan successes we've seen."

Romney was speaking about a recent Department of Health and Human Services directive that removed federal work requirements in what Obama administration officials said was an effort to grant states more flexibility in determining who can qualify for welfare assistance.

Romney called that move "wrong"—arguing that the work requirement signed into law by Clinton had not just been a cost-saving measure but had encouraged Americans to walk away from a "culture of dependency." The work requirement, Romney said, had cut welfare caseloads in half and had reduced the number of Americans living in poverty—which he described as a "great accomplishment."

"They did not want a culture of dependency to continue to grow in our country, but instead wanted people to have the blessings of work," Romney said of those who backed the welfare reforms signed into law by Clinton.

"If I am president, I will put work back in welfare," Romney added. "We will end a culture of dependency and restore a culture of good hard work."

Romney's line of attack came hours after his campaign unveiled a new television ad accusing Obama of trying to undo the Clinton-era reforms. The spot featured a photo of Clinton and came just weeks after the Romney campaign featured the former president's wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in two other ads ripping Obama for false attacks in 2008.

Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, called Romney's claims on welfare reform "untrue and hypocritical"—citing a 2005 letter Romney signed when governor of Massachusetts that pressed Congress to give states more flexibility to determine who should qualify for welfare.

"These false and extremely hypocritical attacks demonstrate how Mitt Romney lacks the core strength and principles the nation needs in a president," Smith said in an email to reporters.

But perhaps anticipating that push-back, Romney addressed his critics while on the stump today in Illinois—telling supporters he moved to strengthen work requirements for welfare recipients when he was governor.

"Not because I don't think people who need to be helped shouldn't be helped," Romney explained Tuesday. "I very much agree that those who are seriously disabled or can't work need to have the help of the rest of us. But those who can work ought to have the opportunity for a good job."