Veteran of 1990s welfare shift faults both sides in current clash

A former senior House GOP aide who helped write the landmark welfare-to-work laws in the 1990s challenged Mitt Romney’s assertion that President Obama’s wants to weaken work requirements for welfare recipients — but he also questioned whether the White House is overstepping its authority by giving states the chance to experiment with their welfare programs.

Now co-director of the Brookings Center on Children and Families and Budgeting for National Priorities Project, Ron Haskins told The Washington Times that he doesn’t think the administration’s policy will undermine the work requirements in welfare programs.

“I don’t see how it could,” he said Wednesday, adding that, politically speaking, it wouldn’t make any political sense for Mr. Obama to do so. “I seriously doubt that the president is trying to bring more people onto the welfare rolls.”

The GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee and his political allies, though, showed no signs Wednesday of backing off their charge that Mr. Obama is trying to undercut the welfare law that Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed in 1996, replacing a federal entitlement with grants to states.

Speaking at a campaign stop in Des Moines, Mr. Romney accused Mr. Obama of using a “very careful executive action” to remove “the requirement of work from welfare.”

“It is wrong to make any change that would make America more of a nation of government dependency. We must restore it, and I will restore work into welfare,” the former Massachusetts governor said, sparking applause from the crowd.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, dubbed Mr. Obama the “anti-Clinton” in a conference calls arranged by the Republican National Committee.

Clinton was trying to move the party to the center, Obama has moved it to the left,” Mr. Gingrich said, picking up on the Romney camp’s efforts to appeal to working-class voters who look back fondly at the booming economy of the late 1990s.

Mr. Clinton has defended Mr. Obama, saying that Mr. Romney’s claims were “not true,” while White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has countered that the claims are “categorically” false.

“No waivers would be granted unless the states could demonstrate that they will increase by 20 percent the number of individuals who are moved from welfare to work,” Mr. Carney said at the daily White House briefing on Wednesday.

It marked the second day in a row that Mr. Romney tried to make hay of a July 12 memo issued by the Health and Human Services Department that said it would consider granting waivers from welfare requirements if states could show that the added flexibility would allow them to devise more effective ways to put more of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — otherwise known as welfare — recipients to work.

The Romney camp also has argued that the Obama administration does not have the legal authority to grant waivers to states.

Asked about the charge, Mr. Haskins said he is uncertain whether the administration possesses the legal authority to do what it did. But he does think the administration has violated the spirit of the law by not pushing the plan through the legislative branch.

“I think it is wrong to do it the way they did it,” he said, adding that he supports the legislative push from Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, and Rep. Dave Camp, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to prohibit the Obama administration from unilaterally granting itself the authority to exempt states from the work requirements in the welfare law.

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