Who would have thought the 2012 presidential campaign would take Americans back to the early '90s when welfare reform was the hot topic. It's back to the delicate dance of Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton, the two people responsible for passing the landmark welfare reform in 1996 now right in the middle, as Mitt Romney and Barack Obama vie for the presidency.
President Obama announced earlier this summer that he planned to allow governors to seek exemption from the plan's work-to-welfare requirement. In recent days, presumptive Republican nominee Romney has been in full swing hitting Obama on his changes to welfare, a charge led by none other than Gingrich, who has been advising the Romney campaign since leaving the race on May 1, and suggested to advisers that Romney go in that direction, according to a Gingrich spokesman.
"President Obama, in just the last few days, has tried to reverse that accomplishment by taking the work requirement out of welfare. That is wrong. I'll put work back in welfare," Romney said yesterday in Chicago.
Even today, Romney was right on message, taking the audience back "a couple of decades ago," when "President Clinton and Republicans who were in Congress at the time came together in a bipartisan basis and said welfare in the future is going to require work." Romney went on to say then Sen. Obama was opposed to welfare reform, referring to a recording recently surfaced of Obama saying he probably would have voted against the reform.
"It is wrong to make any change that would make America more of a nation of government dependency. We must restore it and I will restore work in welfare," Romney said today in Des Moines.
Yesterday, the Romney campaign released an ad hitting President Obama on the welfare changes, using Bill Clinton as the pawn. The ad shows Clinton signing the reform into law, while an announcer says Obama's plans undermine him.
Clinton shot back yesterday in defense of Obama, saying the ad was "not true" and "especially disappointing."
Today it was Gingrich's turn to hit back, in what seemed like a 1990s do-over. Gingrich participated in a Republican National Committee call this morning, driving the message that Obama is making a detrimental change to the key reform he and Clinton worked so hard to pass.
"In many ways, Obama is the anti-Clinton," Gingrich said, comparing their ability to work in a bi-partisan effort and hitting Obama on the deficit, while saying Clinton balanced the budget. "I hope that every American, when they watch Bill Clinton speak, will realize how much weaker and less effective a president Obama is than the man who is nominating him."
Gingrich went on to say that Romney has picked a direction that is "exactly a clear, vivid distinction between the two parties," also saying welfare reform is a "deep ideological fight."
"I don't think they thought it would be a big deal. I think they thought they were being very clever and they thought that this wouldn't be noticed by anybody," Gingrich said, referring to the Obama administration's executive order. "Now they have a real fight and I think it's a fight they can't possibly win."
Gingrich said he'll do anything he can within Romney's campaign framework to help him.
"[Romney's] whole life is a life of work. He believes in work and the work ethic. And I believe that he'll be very effective," Gingrich said.
Gingrich's spokesman told ABC News to expect Gingrich to continue to help Romney out in public with messaging welfare or anything to help get Romney elected as well as behind the scenes with fundraising. Gingrich is doing a media blitz this evening on CNN and has also has an op-ed on the subject today in a conservative magazine.
Emily Friedman contributed to this report.