With an eye on middle-class voters, Mitt Romney waded into a fresh social issue yesterday, accusing President Barack Obama of gutting the welfare system’s work requirements at the expense of taxpayers.
Speaking at a manufacturing plant in the Chicago suburbs, the Republican presidential candidate sought to cast Obama as a big-government supporter eager to give benefits to the poor while failing to help economically struggling working families.
“We will end a culture of dependency and restore a culture of good, hard work,” Romney told several hundred voters at Acme Industries in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.
By zeroing in on welfare, a topic rarely mentioned by the campaign, Romney is seeking to appeal to white, middle-class voters anxious about the economy, an aide said. Winning that group could be pivotal for both campaigns in such competitive states as Ohio and Virginia.
The focus on welfare comes as Romney intensifies his economic rhetoric, predicting a “financial catastrophe” if Obama is re-elected.
“I’m convinced if we re-elected President Obama we will see four more years of high unemployment, virtually no wage growth in real terms and a fiscal catastrophe at the doorstep,” Romney told three-dozen donors gathered for a fundraising event in downtown Chicago.
Romney pegged his welfare attack, highlighted in a new 30-second advertisement released by the campaign yesterday, to a largely unnoticed July 12 memo by the Obama administration that Republicans say dismantles work requirements established under President Bill Clinton’s landmark 1996 federal welfare overhaul.
The White House pushed back, saying the decision permitting the federal government to waive work requirements for states has strengthened, not weakened, the welfare system’s ability to move people from government assistance to employment.
“From a policy standpoint, this advertisement is categorically false and blatantly dishonest,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.
Clinton also released a statement calling the ad untrue. He said the recently announced policy didn’t weaken the requirements of the 1996 law and called the ad “especially disappointing” because, as governor of Massachusetts, Romney had sought a waiver.
“We need a bipartisan consensus to continue to help people move from welfare to work even during these hard times, not more misleading campaign ads,” Clinton said in the statement.
To be granted a waiver, states must submit proposals that increase the number of people moving from welfare to work by 20 percent. So far, no waivers have been granted.
White House officials said a number of governors had requested waivers, including Republicans Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Gary Herbert of Utah. Both governors, who are Romney backers, said in statements that they wanted greater flexibility in carrying out their welfare programs -- not weaker work requirements.
Obama campaign aides cited a letter Romney signed in 2005 with other Republican governors requesting similar flexibility for states when he was governor of Massachusetts.
“Romney is falsely criticizing a policy he once supported,” James Kvaal, domestic policy adviser to the president’s re-election effort, said during a conference call with reporters.
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 the 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 argues in favor of “state flexibility” provided by the legislation, including “increased waiver authority.”
The welfare issue is part of Romney’s broader effort to portray the president as willing to increase benefits for the poor while neglecting middle class families.
“It’s tough to be middle class in America today,” he said today in Des Moines, Iowa. “The president’s policies have simply failed the American people.”
The Romney campaign also wants to contrast Obama’s record with the Clinton administration’s legacy in a bid to drive a wedge between the White House and the popular former president.
Clinton as Surrogate
Clinton has emerged as an increasingly high-profile surrogate for the Obama campaign, which recently gave him a speaking spot at the Democratic National Convention, which starts on 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 on July 31 with the support of anti-tax Tea Party activists.
Democrats, too, worked to woo middle-class voters, releasing a new ad casting Romney as indifferent to their economic struggles.
$20 Million Campaign
The spot is part of a $20 million campaign by the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action attacking Romney’s business record at Bain Capital LLC, the Boston-based private-equity firm he founded and ran. It features a worker describing the death of his wife after his family lost health insurance and he lost his job when the Bain-owned plant he worked for shut down.
“I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he’s done to anyone,” says the worker, Joe Soptic. “And furthermore, I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned.”
Romney had left Bain before the plant closed, and Soptic’s wife, who died five years later, had kept her own job and health insurance for a period of time after her husband lost his, according to a Washington Post fact-check, which gave the ad “four Pinocchios,” its worst rating for truthfulness.
Both campaigns also devoted time yesterday to raising money. Democratic donors in the Washington area paid $40,000 per person to attend a roundtable with Obama, while Romney raised more than $4 million at events in Des Moines and Chicago.
At last night’s fundraiser in Des Moines, Romney expressed condolences for the victims of the Aug. 5 shooting at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee. During his remarks, he mispronounced the word Sikh as “sheik,” using an Arabic honorific to refer to the South Asian faith.
Rick Gorka, an aide to the campaign, said Romney misspoke after a long day of campaigning. At earlier events in Chicago, Romney used the correct pronunciation.
Romney heads to New Jersey today as part of a two-day fundraising swing. He will intensify his focus on battleground states later this week, when he departs on a four-state bus tour that will take his campaign to Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio.
Today, Obama plans to start a two-day swing through Colorado. The president will be introduced at an event in Denver by Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University law student whom talk-show host Rush Limbaugh called a “slut” for backing a part of Obama’s health-care law requiring insurance companies to cover contraception.