This post was updated on August 9, 2012.
President Obama is a champion of welfare-to-work programs. Recently, he gave states more of the tools they need to help move people from assistance to employment as quickly as possible. Republican governors have been asking for these new tools for years—and in 2005 Governor Romney himself requested the same kind of flexibility that the Obama administration provided.
But rather than work with the President on welfare reform, Mitt Romney and his Republican allies are launching false attacks on the very changes they once supported. They are claiming that President Obama weakened the welfare-to-work requirements when the opposite is true.
In fact, Romney’s ad has been called “wildly misleading,” “mind-boggling,” “dubious,” “hypocritical,” “false,” and a “huge and shameless deception.” The New York Times said Romney “has hit new depths of truth-twisting” with this “blatantly false” ad. Politifact gave Romney’s ad a rating of “pants on fire.”
Here are the facts.
Under the welfare reform law signed by President Clinton, states are required to move people from federal assistance to work. While the goal was to give each state flexibility to create a program that met their own local needs, some federal requirements are extremely complex.
States say that their caseworkers spend more time completing paperwork than helping people get work. States, especially Republican-led states like Utah and Nevada, have asked for more flexibility so that they can create more successful programs. President Obama listened to their concerns, and announced new options to help meet their needs.
Under the President’s policy, states can build the welfare to work program that is best for them, and can apply for waivers from federal requirements that get in their way. This new policy cannot be used to weaken welfare reform: Waivers that weaken or undercut welfare reform will not be approved. Waivers will not be granted to avoid time limits on when assistance may be provided. The only waivers that will be granted will test approaches that can do a better job at promoting work among families receiving assistance.
The False Attack
This is a common sense reform to give governors—including some of Romney’s supporters—flexibility to live up to the goals of the welfare reform law. Romney should know: He used to support these kinds of waivers. In 2005, he joined other Republican governors in a letter to Senator Frist, urging the Senate to move quickly on “increased waiver authority” for the welfare program.
Politifact: “By granting waivers to states, the Obama administration is seeking to make welfare-to-work efforts more successful, not end them. What’s more, the waivers would apply to individually evaluated pilot programs—HHS is not proposing a blanket, national change to welfare law.”
NBC: “But does the memo do what the Romney campaign charges—that it guts welfare reform, gets rid of work requirements entirely, and would ‘just send you your welfare check’? Not exactly … The administration’s HHS memo certainly does not make it so the federal government will now “just send you your welfare check,” as the Romney campaign’s television ad asserts.”
ABC: “The claim appears to be an exaggeration … another exaggeration … a bit hypocritical … As the Obama campaign has pointed out, Romney signed a 2005 letter to Sen. Bill Frist (along with Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty, etc.), when welfare programs were being reauthorized under Bush. As the governors lobbied Frist on the bill, they praised ‘state flexibility.’”
Salon: “As has already been widely noted, the line of attack is complicated by a few problems. First of all, it’s not true, or at least wildly misleading. Obama’s plan doesn’t end work requirements … Secondly, it’s a little tricky to slam Obama for handing out waivers when Romney himself supported the exact same proposal as governor of Massachusetts in 2005.”
Time’s Joe Klein: “How incompetent is the Romney campaign? They keep coming up with these stupid gambits—the last was the lie that Obama opposed early voting for members of the military in Ohio—that are shot down instantaneously (everywhere but in Fox-Rush land) … But there is a larger question here: How stupid does he think we are? Every day brings a mind-boggling act of untruth-telling.”
Ultimately, President Obama reached across the aisle and put in place a new policy that will make welfare to work stronger. By joining some in his party to falsely criticize a policy that empowers states to implement welfare reform, Romney has made it clear that he is far more interested in another political attack against the President than he is in actually finding solutions.