Mitt Romney today charged President Obama with "taking the work requirement out of welfare," pointing to the administration's July decision to grant individual states waivers on certain federal work requirements.
A new Romney ad, out this morning, claimes the president is trying to "gut" the welfare reform measures passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. That overhaul required a certain percentage of every state's welfare beneficiaries to hold jobs as a precondition to their receiving benefits.
"Under Obama's plan, you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job," the ad says. "They just send you your welfare check."
Speaking just outside Chicago, Romney said President Obama has tried to "take the work requirement out of welfare. That is wrong. If I'm president, I'll put work back in welfare."
The White House bit back, with Obama press secretary Jay Carney calling the new line of attacks "categorically false and blatantly dishonest."
Later in the afternoon, Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter defended the waiver plan, which she said would require participating states "to increase the number of people transitioning from welfare to work by 20 percent." There's no strict timeline for achieving that number, but the states will have to "demonstrate clear progress" within the first year, according to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) guidelines.
Cutter also noted that state Republicans in Utah and Nevada had been lobbying for a waiver program. Indeed, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has written that his state's resources were being stretched by "difficult and costly to verify" federal requirements. Herbert also said that other aspects of "work for Welfare" "do not lead to meaningful employment outcomes and are overly prescriptive."
In 2005, Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, signed a letter along with some of his most high-profile state executives (Tim Pawlenty, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee and Jeb Bush, to name a few) that lobbied for a reform similar to the one he's now denouncing.
"Increased waiver authority, allowable work activities, availability of partial work credit and the ability to coordinate state programs are all important aspects of moving recipients from welfare to work," the Republican governors wrote.
Republican National Committee chief Reince Priebus shrugged off the letter, saying, "Romney wanted use of waivers to make it tougher [for states to add to their welfare budget]. In the case of President Obama, he's doing it to make it easier."
The Obama campaign countered, suggesting that the governors' request was broader than what the administration is now allowing and that, "as governor, Romney asked for even greater flexibility to waive the central part of the law by letting people receive benefits for an indefinite period and as HHS has said, his waiver request wouldn't be approved today because it weakened the law too much."
Democrats were also quick to point to Romney's controversial "Car Ownership Program," a project he spearheaded during his time as governor of Massachusetts.
Under the plan, welfare recipients were provided with cars, insurance coverage and AAA memberships, according to a Boston Herald report.
Romney spokeswoman Gail Gitcho defended the arrangement, telling the Herald that "80 percent of the participants have moved off welfare," and that despite an initial outlay of $400,000 in 2006, the state saved nearly $1 million in welfare payouts in the subsequent three years.
It's not the first time this campaign season that Romney's positions have put him at odds with Republican governors. In March, Gov. Rick Scott was featured in an ad touting Florida's falling unemployment rate.
"Companies are hiring, expanding, putting more Floridians to work," the narrator says.
Romney advisers reportedly told Scott not to stray so far from the party line.