Mitt Romney’s campaign fired a second volley Wednesday in the battle over welfare reform, painting President Obama as a proponent of government handouts who has long opposed placing work requirements on people who receive welfare benefits.
In a new, 90-second Web ad, the Romney campaign dips into the video archive with clips of prominent Democrats in 1996—Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, John Kerry—all hailing the work requirements contained in a bipartisan welfare reform bill passed that year.
The ad juxtaposes these Democrats’ statements with remarks Obama made in the late 1990s, when he was an Illinois state senator.
“I would not probably have supported the federal system, the federal bill that was passed,” Obama says in one clip.
The claim that Obama has waived the welfare program’s work mandate was widely debunked Tuesday. States can apply for waivers from federal welfare requirements but only to experiment with alternative strategies for returning welfare recipients to the workforce—and they must improve their rates of workforce reintroduction by 20 percent.
The Romney campaign’s secondary claim—that Obama did not back a welfare reform bill that is generally considered a success—is true, but the ad omits important context.
Obama clearly had reservations about the 1996 welfare bill and said on multiple occasions that he likely would not have voted for it, if he had been in Congress.
But a fuller review of Obama’s past statements shows his position was not that welfare recipients should not have to work but that the bill did not do enough to break the cycle of poverty.
One of the clips used in the Romney campaign ad comes from a convocation address Obama delivered at Carleton College on Feb. 5, 1999. In a question-and-answer session after his speech, Obama said he would not have backed the welfare reform bill, as it passed.
But, he added, “it is undeniable that work is better than welfare.”
The problem with the work mandate, Obama said, is it did not address three related issues: that in some areas there are few available jobs, that welfare recipients often do not possess the skills needed to fill those jobs, and that many of the jobs for which welfare recipients are qualified pay so little that they are no better off than they were before.
“You can be working and still be dirt poor,” Obama said. “In some ways, you may be worse off because you may not have any health benefits, you now have to pay for transportation, and so it ends up being a net loss.”
“The central problem,” Obama continued, “which is ‘How do you create enough affordable jobs that pay a living wage, that allow a family to support their children?’ has not been solved.”
Defending against the welfare attacks, the Obama campaign has said the waivers being offered to states now give the states opportunities to tinker with and improve upon the 16-year-old reform law.
On Wednesday, the president’s reelection campaign released its own Web ad that calls Romney’s attacks “false.”