The White House denounced Mitt Romney's "blatantly dishonest" charge that President Barack Obama is looking to "gut welfare reform" enacted under Bill Clinton by erasing a requirement that recipients actively seek work.
"This advertisement is categorically false, and it is blatantly dishonest," press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at his daily briefing.
A new Romney ad seizes on a mid-July memo from the Department of Health and Human Services that signals the administration is open to waiving certain work requirements. "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." (The ad opens with a photo of Clinton, who worked with a Republican Congress to impose the work requirement, over the objections of liberal allies.)
But the memo says "HHS will only consider approving waivers relating to the work participation requirements that make changes intended to lead to more effective means of meeting the work goals of TANF" and requires states seeking waivers to submit to a "federally-approved evaluation plan."
"This administration's policy will strengthen the program by giving states the opportunity to employ more effective ways to help people get off welfare and into a job," Carney said.
The press secretary echoed a letter from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius saying that governors must commit to moving at least 20 percent more people from welfare to work.
"Any request from any state that undercuts the work requirement in welfare reform will be rejected," Carney said.
And Carney echoed an Obama campaign charge that Romney, as Massachusetts governor, signed on to a letter with 28 other Republican governors asking Congress to give them more flexibility to manage core requirements, saying they wanted waivers that would have "allowed people to stay on welfare forever."
"Those are not standards the president supports," said Carney, who underlined that the Obama administration's proposals stemmed from requests by Republican Governors Gary Herbert of Utah and Brian Sandoval of Nevada.
In an unusually lengthy and sharp response to a campaign trail attack, Carney called the ad "an utter misrepresentation of the president's policy," "dishonest," "false," said Romney's "hypocrisy knows no bounds."
The Obama campaign chimed in on a conference call with reporters.
"I'm always happy when people embrace the New Democratic policies of President Clinton. I'd just wish they'd tell the truth," former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta told reporters on the call.
Podesta praised the Obama administration, saying it was working "in tougher economic conditions" to "give people the dignity of a job."
"In advance of this call, I did have the opportunity, to the extent it matters, to check in with the president (Clinton)," Podesta said. "He completely agrees with my analysis of this."