Mitt Romney debuted a fresh effort to cast President Barack Obama as a big-government backer today, charging him with gutting welfare requirements at the expense of the struggling middle class.
Speaking at a manufacturing plant in the Chicago suburbs, just miles from the president’s old neighborhood, Romney vowed to “put work back in welfare.”
“We will end a culture of dependency and restore a culture of good, hard work,” the Republican presidential candidate told several hundred voters gathered at Acme Industries in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.
By zeroing in on welfare, Romney’s campaign is seeking to appeal to white, middle-class voters unhappy about the direction of the country, an aide said. Winning that group could be pivotal for both campaigns in such swing states as Ohio and Virginia.
The campaign unveiled a new, 30-second advertisement this morning accusing the White House with dismantling work requirements included in President Bill Clinton’s landmark 1996 federal welfare overhaul.
“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,” says an announcer in the ad. “And welfare-to- work goes back to being plain old welfare.”
The Obama administration pushed back, saying Republican governors from Utah and Nevada had requested waivers from the rules.
“From a policy standpoint, this advertisement is categorically false and blatantly dishonest,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.
The administration’s July 12 decision to change the regulations will give states the flexibility to improve the efficiency and employment outcomes of their welfare programs, the White House contends.
The Obama campaign pointed to Romney’s support for giving states similar flexibility when he was governor of Massachusetts.
“By falsely attacking a policy that both he and his Republican allies have supported for years, Romney is once again flip-flopping on a position he took in Massachusetts,” said Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for Obama’s campaign.
Jonathan Burks, a Romney campaign economic policy aide, denied that as governor Romney had supported flexibility from the work requirement. He said Romney joined with other Republican governors in a 2005 letter to congressional leaders supporting a measure reauthorizing the welfare program that would have increased the work requirement.
Still, the letter signed by Romney does argue in favor of “state flexibility” provided by the legislation, including “increased waiver authority.”
“Perhaps his argument is with his past self,” Carney said of Romney.
Aides to the Republican challenger see the welfare issue as an opportunity to cast Obama as a big-spending politician eager to give government benefits to the poor while failing to help an economically struggling working families.
“This is an issue that very much highlights the clear choice in the election, and the difference in the approach to governing: one side having an emphasis on job creation and the skills to succeed, and the other side gutting work requirements,” Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to Romney said on a conference call with reporters.
The Romney campaign also wants to contrast Obama’s record with the legacy of the Clinton administration, in an effort to drive a wedge between the White House and the popular former president.
Bill Clinton has emerged as an increasingly high-profile surrogate for the Obama campaign, which recently gave the former president a high-profile speaking spot at the Democratic National Convention starting Sept. 4 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“President Obama apparently believes that Bill Clinton was way too conservative, and that the Obama administration is and should be far, far to the left of the Clinton administration,” said Republican Senate candidate Ted Cruz of Texas, a political newcomer who scored a primary upset victory July 31 with the support of anti-tax tea party activists.
Both campaigns also plan to spend much of the day raising money. Obama is addressing donors in the Washington area, while Romney is holding fundraising events in Des Moines and Chicago.
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