This morning, the Romney campaign began what they described as a weeklong offensive accusing President Barack Obama of trying to “gut” President Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform plan. Team Obama fired back this afternoon by bringing out Obama For America Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter and President Clinton’s former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta for a press conference call in which they described the Romney campaign’s welfare attack as “completely false.” Mr. Podesta also said he spoke to President Clinton about the situation and they were both in agreement that President Obama’s policies are “consistent” with the original vision for welfare reform.
The accusation President Obama is attempting to reverse President Clinton’s welfare reform stems from a directive issued last month by the Department of Health and Human Services that allowed states to apply for waivers lowering the requirements for people to qualify for assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. These requirements include things like job training programs and attendance in secondary school. A Romney campaign ad focusing on the issue argued these waivers amount to “a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements” and end President Clinton’s vision of “requiring work for welfare.”
“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 and welfare to work goes back to being plain old welfare,” a narrator says in the ad.
On this afternoon’s call, Ms. Cutter argued the waivers merely allow states flexibility to find the “welfare to work programs that are best for them” in the difficult economic climate. She also said “the waivers can’t be used to weaken welfare reform” because “states that get waivers have to increase job placement by 20 percent.”
This isn’t the first time the Romney campaign has tried to pit President Obama and President Clinton against each other. Because of this, on this afternoon’s call, Mr. Podesta was asked whether he felt Mitt Romney has more in common with President Clinton than President Obama does. He said he thinks President Obama’s welfare policies are “quite consistent” with President Clinton’s vision of welfare reform.
“I’m always happy when people embrace the new Democratic policies of Bill Clinton, I just wish they’d tell the truth when they do that,” said Mr. Podesta. “I think that the Obama administration is trying to administer this program in a way–in tougher economic conditions, in fact–in a way that’s trying to accomplish that goal, which is to give people the dignity of a job. And in that context, I think it’s quite consistent with President Clinton’s, kind of, theory of the case.”
Mr. Podesta also assured the reporters on the call that his defense of President Obama had President Clinton’s blessing.
“In advance of this call, I did have the opportunity to…check in with the president and he completely agrees with my analysis of this,” Mr. Podesta said.