Obama’s aides dodge on rollback of welfare reform

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama’s aides are trying to obscure his risky decision to roll-back work requirements in the popular 1996 welfare reform by saying GOP governors did it too.

In a series of statements, tweets and emails, his aides argue that GOP governors — including Gov. Mitt Romney — sought regulatory leeway in 2005.

“Truth Team on Mitt’s welfare hit – not only does Obama reform strengthen welfare to work but Mitt ASKED for it in 2005,” said a Tuesday tweet from Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager.

“Romney’s welfare record? He offered free access to cars for welfare recipients in MA,” she added in a later tweet.

Obama’s aides also tried to defend the policy, but provided no evidence that the changes would reduce the growing welfare case loads or the high unemployment rate.

“The President is giving states additional flexibility only if they move more people from welfare to work – not fewer,” said a statement from campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith.

GOP officials scoffed at Obama’s defense.

“Governor Romney supported making the work-requirements tougher and more stringent,” said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee. “What Obama has done is given out waivers so that welfare recipients can get around the work requirements — it’s an absolute fact and that’s what he’s done,” he added.

Supporters said Romney also vetoed an effort by the Democratic-run state assembly to weaken work requirements.

The Obama push-back came as GOP officials and aides to Gov. Mitt Romney announced they would spend the week highlighting Obama’s effort to “gut” the popular reform.

Obama’s decision to reverse Clinton’s centrist decision prior to the 2012 election increases Obama’s risk that the GOP can successfully portray him as an extremist.

The work requirement rollback comes as administration officials try to expand enrollment in welfare programs, including the food stamp program, the Supplemental Social Security Insurance, and Medicaid. The administration has also offered free contraception services via the Obamacare health-sector revamp.

“We are going to be discussing President Obama’s actions gutting welfare reform,” said a morning e-mail from Romney’s press secretary, Andrea Saul. “His actions may energize his dispirited liberal base, but they are an insult not only to those on welfare, but also to the millions of taxpayers struggling in today’s economy, working more for less,” said her statement.

“By gutting work requirements at heart of bipartisan welfare reform, POTUS is admitting his economic policies failed,” said a later tweet from the Speaker of the House, Republican Rep.. Joe Boehner.

On Aug. 7, the Romney campaign released a mild attack-video on the subject, dubbed “Right Choice,” but Romney’s allies may release a harder-hitting message aimed at blue-collar workers who resent easy welfare rules.

The new rules established by the Department of Health and Human Services allow states to apply for permission to exempt their welfare recipients from the work requirement by enrolling them into so-called “demonstration projects.”

The work requirement was a key measure in the 1996 welfare reform law, which Clinton gradually accepted under GOP pressure, and at the urging of his chief political strategist, Dick Morris.

By endorsing the work requirement, Clinton was able to claim that he was a centrist.

That decision also boosted his 1996 reelection campaign, following his disastrous losses in the 1994 mid-term elections that ended the Democrats’ 40-year majority in the House of Representatives.

The reform proved very successful, and the number of people on welfare dropped sharply. The drop-off in numbers and the work-requirement also boosted public support for the the revamped welfare programs.

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