The White House rejected charges Wednesday that President Obama is trying to gut work requirements in the landmark 1996 welfare reform law, and accused Republicans, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, of "flip-flopping" on the need to give states flexibility in implementing the law.
"This administration in no way supports any effort to undermine the work requirements that were fundamental to the welfare reform act signed into law by President Bill Clinton," said White House press secretary Jay Carney. "Those requirements are fundamental to the gains made in the past 15 years in moving people from welfare to work."
The Department of Health and Human Services proposed regulations July 12 that would allow states to substitute education programs for work for people to qualify for welfare benefits. The regulations say that vocational education training and job-search programs "count as well" to meet the requirement that welfare recipients work.
The administration's stated intention is to allow states more flexibility during the weak economy to try programs that promote employment for people on welfare.
Republicans have attacked the proposed changes. Mr. Romney said the president aims to "strip the established work requirements" from the law. House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, called the move "a partisan disgrace."
Mr. Carney said, "I have been surprised by … the hypocrisy of our critics, since many of them have, in the past, supported and even proposed such waivers. Gov. Romney, Gov. [Haley] Barbour [of Mississippi] Gov. [Mike] Huckabee [of Arkansas], Secretary Tommy Thompson and Sen. [Chuck] Grassley [of Iowa] all supported these kinds of waivers for states in the past. In a 2005 letter to the Senate, Republican governors, including then-Gov. Romney, requested such waivers."
He added, "Given this long, documented history of bipartisan support, it is surprising, to say the least, to see this kind of flip-flopping on the part of Republicans."
Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said Mr. Romney has always been a strong supporter of work requirements consistently in welfare reform.
"As governor, he led a state that had previously been exempted from some of those requirements, but he pressed to align the state program with federal law and vetoed a proposal to move in the other direction," she said. "President Obama's efforts to gut welfare reform are just another of his attempts to return to the failed liberal policies of the past that have prolonged our economic crisis, created record levels of long-term unemployment, and swelled the rolls of Americans dependent on government assistance."
Dick Morris, a Democrat and former adviser to Mr. Clinton, said the Obama administration is "determined to destroy Bill Clinton's signature achievement."
"President Obama's administration has opened a loophole in the 1996 welfare reform legislation big enough to make the law ineffective," Mr. Morris wrote in an op-ed in the Hill. "Its work requirement — the central feature of the legislation — has been diluted beyond recognition by the bureaucrats at the Department of Health and Human Services."
Mr. Carney said the changes will "accelerate job placement by moving more Americans from welfare to work as quickly as possible."
"There will be no waivers of the limit — of the time limits in the law, and only waivers with compelling plans to move more people off of welfare and into work will be considered," Mr. Carney said. "This policy will allow states to test new, more effective ways to help people get and keep a job."
Senate Republicans on Wednesday introduced a bill that essentially would block the administration's proposed changes to the law. The measure is sponsored by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, who said the Obama administration "grossly undermined the constitutional authority of the legislative branch to effect changes to settled law."
"The Obama administration quietly released 'guidance' to the states informing them that the administration had granted itself authority to waive work requirements in TANF," Mr. Hatch said. "In the 16 years since the creation of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, no administration has concluded that they have the authority to waive the TANF work requirements."
Former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum said Mr. Obama was exceeding his authority.
"Going out and saying 'I'm going to change the law on welfare,' 'I'm going to eliminate the work requirement,' something that we fought for, President Clinton signed … probably the single-greatest accomplishment social welfare-wise in the last 20 years and President Obama gets up and says, 'Nope, I'm going to change the law' by speaking," Mr. Santorum told ABC News. "This sounds like a two-bit dictator, not a president of the United States."
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.