Romney tries out a welfare attack

Is Obama going to bring back welfare? Republicans wish

By Alex Pareene
Published August 7, 2012 6:53PM (EDT)

Mitt Romney's newest campaign stratagem: a huge and shameless deception about an issue that only committed conservatives care about. Here's his new ad, about how Obama wants to make welfare bad again:

Boy, Republicans wish Obama actually wanted to restore the welfare program to its former size and scope. Then they'd get to run against it again!

I can't imagine "welfare" as code word has the same impact on voters that it did in 1980 or 1984 or 1988 or 1992 -- Bill Clinton's welfare reform had mostly bad results for actual human beings on welfare but it was a deft bit of politics, it turns out! -- but half of Romney's tactics seem borrowed from long out-of-date Republican playbooks.

Here's what happened: The Heritage Foundation said Obama was going to gut welfare reform by weakening the "work requirements," based on a Health and Human Services memo giving states the opportunity to waive some work requirements, if states can prove that whatever they want to do instead will lead to higher employment. That story then spread to the usual conservative media outlets, like Mickey Kaus' weblog.

The entire "Obama is gutting welfare reform as part of an executive branch power grab" story is silly. The "Obama is getting rid of work requirements" line is an outright lie. The change was designed to make it easier for states to manage Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and allow them -- instead of some federal government bureaucrat! -- more freedom to determine what constitutes work activities. Mitt Romney, along with a bunch of other Republican governors, signed a letter in 2005 asking for greater flexibility in administering the purposefully burdensome "work activity" requirements of TANF.

State support of waivers is not a new phenomenon. In 2005, 29 Republican governors, including Mr. Romney and Mr. Huckabee, asked Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, for more “flexibility to manage their TANF programs and effectively serve low-income populations.”

“Increased waiver authority, allowable work activities, availability of partial work credit and the ability to coordinate state programs are all important aspects of moving recipients from welfare to work,” the letter read.

So! Here's a dumb right-wing lie turned into an even dumber and more dishonest Mitt Romney campaign commercial.

In fact there is broad bipartisan consensus on the amazing and wonderful success of welfare reform and the Obama administration would never actually do anything to return this country to the bad old days when poor people just got money, from the government. In this glorious new age, only about a quarter of children in poor families receive TANF assistance and millions of people rely solely on food stamps. TANF work requirements were a huge success, and once every unmaried mother in America is working a shitty job for sub-poverty wages we will have finally won the war on welfare.

Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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2012 Elections Barack Obama Mitt Romney Poverty Welfare