Romney: Obama’s bringing welfare back

The Romney campaign picks up where Gingrich left off, launching a broadside against Obama on welfare reform

Topics: Mitt Romney, Welfare, Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, 2012 Elections,

Romney: Obama's bringing welfare backNewt Gingrich and Mitt Romney (Credit: AP/Paul Sancya)

Mitt Romney’s campaign is seizing on a story that’s been percolating on conservative blogs for weeks, rolling out a new attack today against President Obama for “unilaterally dismantling” the bipartisan welfare reform regime signed into law by President Clinton. A new ad from the campaign states: “President Obama quietly announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work 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.”

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, but rather grants waivers to states that propose alternative requirements that suit them better than a one-size-fits-all federal plan, something conservatives usually  support. As the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein wrote last month, when the story first started gaining traction on the right, “The Obama administration is not removing the bill’s work requirements at all. He’s changing them to allow states more flexibility. But the principle that welfare programs must require recipients to move toward employment isn’t going anywhere.”

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. That year, 29 governors, including Romney, signed a letter from the Republican Governors Association asking Congress for broader welfare waivers. Romney’s signature is the second one listed, right under a passage calling for “increased waiver authority” in the welfare program to provide more flexibility in “allowable work activities.” The Romney campaign doesn’t mention this in the ad, nor in a fact sheet distributed today intended to push back on charges that Romney has changed his position.



It would be fair for the Romney campaign to note that the 2005 letter was addressed to Congress and asked for legislative changes, as opposed to executive action, but Romney isn’t taking issue with the process, but rather the substance of the policy. Arguing that Obama’s changes should go through Congress would be fair, but arguing that Obama is a “big-government liberal” because he wants to give governors, like Romney, more flexibility is not.

So why choose to fight on an issue where the campaign has such weak footing? The debate over welfare and welfare reform has always been tied up in race, and a cynical observer might argue that Romney is picking up where former House Speaker Newt Gingrich left off in the ’90s and earlier this year when he repeatedly called Obama a “food stamp president.” As University of California Santa Cruz professor Michael K. Brown wrote in the 2003 collection “Race and the Politics of Welfare Reform,” “The 1996 welfare [reform] law is the culmination of conservatives’ success in manipulating the backlash to the Great Society’s centralization and expansion of social welfare during the 1960s, a campaign based on the political exploitation of vulnerability of poor African Americans, who became scapegoats for the ‘failures’ of the Great Society.” These are the infamous “welfare queens” of the Gingrich and Reagan-era.

When Gingrich, in his second life as a presidential candidate, made welfare a consistent line of attack against Obama, he often winked at race, and sometimes mentioned it overtly. “If the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps,” he told a crowd in New Hampshire. Then-candidate Rick Santorum used a similar argument a few days earlier. Noting that an official in Iowa told him the state’s welfare rolls were up, Santorum said, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.” Of course, there are far more whites than blacks on welfare, but the attacks resonated and sparked a backlash because the stereotype of an inner-city minority mooching off the government’s dole has been salient for decades.

All campaigns lie and all politicians change positions, but Romney’s attack on welfare stands out for its brazenness in hitting the trifecta: It’s false, contradictory and fraught with racial undertones.

Alex Seitz-Wald

Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at aseitz-wald@salon.com, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.

       

    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."

    Reuters/NASA

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>