DES MOINES – Republican Mitt Romney opened a new campaign front in Iowa Tuesday by claiming President Obama was attempting to gut federal welfare reforms of the 1990s by weakening the work requirement for recipients – a charge Obama’s camp refuted as a “false, hypocritical attack” that mis-characterized the intent to strengthen the current system with changes supported by state administrators.
Romney arrived in Iowa Tuesday for a private fundraiser before holding a public event on Wednesday as his presidential campaign posted a new TV ad in Iowa and other battleground states charging the president was using executive power in a legal “fiat” to alter welfare reform work requirements – action Romney backers said showed a sharp contrast between Obama’s big government approach versus Romney’s reliance on individual responsibility in seeking job training for work skills to succeed.
“In 1996, President Clinton signed bipartisan legislation to reform welfare by requiring work. Sixteen years later, President Obama quietly gutted this landmark law. Mitt Romney will restore the bipartisan reforms to welfare and move our country in the right direction,” according to a statement issued by the Romney campaign in touting its “Right Choice” commercial that bashes the president’s decision in July to change welfare requirements.
“Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check,” a “voice over” speaker says during the 30-second spot. If elected president in November, Romney will restore the work requirement, according to Ed Gillespie, a Romney senior adviser who spoke to reporters via a conference call Tuesday.
However, Stephanie Cutter, Obama for America deputy campaign manager, held a conference call later Tuesday to declare the Romney ad “is simply not true” in distorting the administration’s effort to give states the flexibility they had been seeking to tailor the federal welfare reform program to their individual needs. She said one provision of receiving the waiver was that states had to show they had increased the work requirement by 20 percent to qualify.
The proposed waiver couldn’t be used to weaken welfare reforms or to undercut the program’s objectives to help people make the transition from welfare to work, she added. Obama staffers also noted that Romney once signed a letter when he was governor of Massachusetts seeking more waiver authority for states that went beyond what was approved last month.
Roger Munns, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Human Services, said there are no plans to request a waiver for welfare reform rules by Iowa officials. But, he added, “we don’t interpret the waiver idea as being an opportunity to discard the very foundation of welfare reform.”
DHS data indicated that the average amount of time that an Iowa family receives government assistance is about 21 months with an average monthly benefit of $344 for each family where the recipient works toward becoming self sufficient. There is a five-year limit for receiving welfare benefits, Munns added. He said the federal changes announced last month were the result of months of talks with state officials aimed at making the law easier to administer and to remove red tape and barriers for self sufficiency.
Romney’s appearance at a private fundraiser at a West Des Moines country club drew protesters and a swipe from U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who criticized the presumptive GOP presidential nominee’s positions on federal tax policy and wind production tax credits, contending 490,000 Iowa middle-class families would see their taxes go up under Romney’s plan and noting “when he’s against wind, that’s against jobs in Iowa.”
However, Romney spokesman Shawn McCoy said the former Massachusetts governor will make his case Wednesday to middle-class Iowans why he is their best choice for president to guide the country through the next four years.
“Under President Obama, the middle class has suffered 42 straight months of unemployment above 8 percent, falling wages, rising health care premiums, and rising energy prices,” McCoy said. “The president claims his economic plan has ‘worked,’ but the middle class is feeling the consequences of an economic strategy built around higher taxes, record debt, and government dependency. Gov. Romney will be in Des Moines to discuss how we can strengthen our middle class and restore America as the best place in the world to find a job, start a business, and hire a worker.”