DES MOINES, Iowa — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich joined forces on Wednesday in a double-barreled attack on President Obama for what they called his attempt to remove work requirements from welfare — charges found to be baseless by welfare-policy experts and news organizations.
Romney said that as an Illinois state senator, Obama opposed the legislation hammered out by Democratic President Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress in 1996 to impose stringent work and study requirements on welfare recipients. As president, Obama has taken executive action to gut the law in an attempt to create “a nation of government dependency,” Romney said in a campaign appearance in a high school auditorium here.
“Now he’s president … with a very careful executive action, he removed the requirement of work from welfare,” Romney said. His campaign is also airing an attack ad on the subject, which asserts, “You wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check.”
Gingrich, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination in 2012, lodged similar charges in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. The administration’s recent move to allow states to apply for waivers from certain parts of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program is “outrageous,” Gingrich said, and part of a conspiracy by Obama and liberals to increase government dependence.
“On the hard left, there is unending desire to create a dependent America,” Gingrich said. “It’s not just Obama’s a radical, but the people he appoints are even more radical.” He singled out Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who generated the administration’s policy.
“She is waging war on the Catholic Church,” Gingrich said. “She’s adopted radical positions on a range of issues. Why would any everyday American believe that she is going to enforce — that if she makes it optional, that she is going to enforce a work requirement? The fact is, when we wrote the bill, Section 407 was not [made] waive-able precisely because we distrusted people like the secretary of HHS.”
The website Politifact, which investigates political claims, found Romney’s charges to be untrue. A memo from George Sheldon, the acting assistant secretary at HHS, said the department wanted to give states more flexibility in meeting work requirements in order to “to allow states to test alternative and innovative strategies, policies, and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families,” the website reported.
Obama campaign spokesman Lis Smith issued a response saying that Romney’s continued attacks, which he launched on Tuesday, are “both untrue and hypocritical.”
“Former President Clinton, the author of welfare reform, called Romney’s comments ‘not true,’ especially in light of Romney’s previous support for a policy that would have eliminated time limits for welfare recipients, which would have ended welfare reform as we know it,” Smith wrote. “If we take Mitt Romney at his word today, that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, it becomes clear that he lacks the core strength and principles the nation needs in a president.”
Obama did not support the welfare-reform bill when it was passed in 1996, saying he feared “disastrous results.” But in 2008, while running for president, Obama said he had changed his position about the landmark bill and had become “absolutely convinced” that the work-centered approach must be “the centerpiece of any social policy.”
Matthew Shelley contributed to this story. contributed to this article.