Team Romney moved to take advantage of another gift from Barack Obama — this one not so much a gaffe but a strange strategic move by Obama and his administration. A month ago, Obama removed the work requirements and limitations on welfare, one of the few successful bipartisan efforts from Washington in the last generation. Bill Clinton only reluctantly went along for the ride, but after agreeing to it, rushed to take credit for the reforms and continued to highlight it as part of his legacy after he left office. Obama unilaterally abandoned that reform, and Romney will start today to paint him as so extreme that he can’t even agree with Bill Clinton:
The Washington Post notices the strategy:
On the campaign trail beginning Tuesday in Illinois and in a new television advertisement, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee plans to argue that the Obama administration is turning the federal welfare program into “just a handout” with last month’s decision to allow waivers to states from welfare work requirements.
This is Romney’s latest attempt to cast Obama as a big-government liberal and to drive a wedge between the president and the popular legacy of one of his Democratic predecessors, President Clinton.
Team Obama objects to this criticism, noting that as governor of Massachusetts, Romney argued for waivers by state on enforcement. However, Romney argues that the waiver requests were intended to quantify the work requirement, not eliminate it altogether. They also remind the media in an accompanying press release that Obama has long been hostile to the welfare reforms of the 1990s:
In a memo to reporters, Romney campaign policy director Lanhee Chen tried to cast Obama as an advocate for “big-government liberalism.”
“Unfortunately, not everyone was enthusiastic about welfare reform,” Chen writes. “For instance, a man named Barack Obama took to the floor of the Illinois State Senate to announce his opposition. A devoted believer in old-school, big-government liberalism, Mr. Obama had no interest in embracing the welfare reform package that linked welfare to work. Now as president, with an economy struggling, an election looming, and a dispirited liberal base in need of encouragement, he has decided to turn back the clock.”
The question that should be asked is this: why didn’t Obama do this through Congress when he had strong Democratic majorities? Had this change taken place in the wake of the financial collapse, or perhaps in mid-2009 as joblessness soared over 10%, there may have been a lot of sympathy for at least a temporary waiver of the work requirements. After all, when Congress and Clinton passed welfare reform, unemployment was pretty low and jobs readily available. Instead, Obama acted unilaterally in the middle of an electoral campaign in which he’s struggling to bypass Congress and gut the bipartisan welfare reform he’s always opposed.
That gives Romney an easy opening for attack. Perhaps Team Romney will buy heavily for the coverage of the Democratic convention — and run this ad before and after Bill Clinton’s nominating speech in prime time.
Update:Here’s audio from a 1999 appearance by Barack Obama at Carleton College, declaring his opposition to Clinton’s welfare reform:
OBAMA: “I’m happy to answer about anything. Legal issues, political issues, football. Yes sir?”
AUDIENCE MEMBER: “I was interested in what you said. [Inaudible]”
OBAMA: “That’s an excellent question. Let me take it sort of two fold. The first question which is fairly specific is about welfare reform. As most of you know I think, in 1996 the Republican Congress passed and President Clinton signed a welfare reform bill that essentially ended a 60 year entitlement to welfare. I was a strong proponent of some reform of the welfare system. I would not probably of supported the federal system. The federal bill that was passed.”
At least he’s consistent.