The Romney campaign is ratcheting up it’s charges that President Obama “gutted” welfare reform by ending work requirement’s for program participants. Following the release yesterday of a campaign ad titled “Right Choice” that claims the Obama administration now “just send(s) you your welfare check,” the Romney camp today enlisted Newt Gingrich to throw down in the ring.
On a conference call with reporters today, Gingrich launched a forceful attack saying, “On the hard left there is unending desire to create a dependent America. There is a deep repudiation of middle-class work ethic,” the Hill reported.
“It’s not just Obama’s a radical, but the people he appoints are even more radical,” Gingrich said.
The former primary rivals have joined forced to attack an administrative policy shift last month that will grant states more power over the administration of their cash assistance programs. The attacks are based on lies, but the assaults are likely to help the Romney campaign sure up the GOP’s white, working class base.
First of all, a quick run down of what the Department of Health and Human Services actually did to the welfare program last month is in order. A central part of the Clinton-Gingrich era welfare reform bill required that for poor folks to get any help from the then renamed Temporary Aid for Needy Families program, they’d have to find a job or participate in what welfare offices call “work activities.” Over the years, those requirements have tightened and states, including Massachusetts when Romney was governor and others with Republicans at the helm, have complained to the federal government that the rules and regulations attached to the work requirements are both overly onerous for case workers and state bureaucracies and don’t actually lead to people getting jobs. Instead, they toil in unpaid volunteer or job search programs that rarely lead to paid employment, let alone jobs with livable wages.
In response to these requests, the Department of Health and Human Services sent a memo to states last month to say the feds would consider granting waivers to states that hope to craft better ways in the economic downturn to move poor parents into jobs. “HHS is encouraging states to consider new, more effective ways to meet the goals of TANF, particularly helping parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment,” the memo said. The agency will allow states to “test alternative and innovative strategies, policies, and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families.” The changes could mean that welfare work programs will move more applicants into paid jobs rather than unpaid “activities” by pulling down some of the strick formal requirements and book keeping drone that keep state employees from actually doing case work.
To be clear, the changes are relatively miniscule in the scheme of things. The welfare program remains a deeply restrictive one that’s hard to get on in the first place and has shrink dramatically since welfare reform. Many who’ve been pushed of the welfare rolls have either fallen into near permanent joblessness or are stuck in low wage jobs with no ladder out. The waivers is not likely to change any of this.
But Romney has nonetheless positioned welfare as his newest line of attack, bringing Gingrich on to serve as head assault dog. They claim Obama has opened the floodgatges to dependency and reversed welfare reform altogether, despite clear statements from a list of welfare reform’s leading supporters that this is not at all the case. This morning, the welfare reform bill’s chief architect, Ron Haskings, who now heads a team at Brookings Institure, told NPR news, “There’s no plausible scenario under which it really constitutes a serious attack on welfare reform.”
But truth is not the point. Garnering support from the traditional Republican base is. A Quinnipiac University poll released today showed that the Romney camp has a solid lead among white working class voters, the same demographic that’s usually the target of welfare-bashing politics. Of course, that’s because welfare-bashing has for the last generation been about stirring racial resentment.
Today, Gingrich told reporters he’s “confident some people in the elite media desperate to reelect Barack Obama will yell racism,” reported the Hill. “The only place that it had widespread tones is in the elite media.” Of course, they are tones Gingrich has helped make pitch perfect.
I wrote about this at some length when Gingrich, back when he was a Republican primary contender, decided to call President Obama the “food stamp president.” As I noted in January:
Gingrich’s attack on the food stamp program is not surprising; it’s the kind of politics that he’s been helping to perfect for over 30 years. He’s been waging the conservative counterrevolution against economic justice for a generation, using whatever Southern Strategy relics he can get his hands on.
For two decades, Gingrich and the GOP, often with the support of Democrats, have torn to shreds many of the New Deal and Great Society era programs that kept poor folks from total destitution—and that specifically sought to close the racial gaps in economic opportunity that black children inherit from generations of American apartheid. The conservative assault on these programs has often come with racially loaded caricatures of benefit recipients as lazy, greedy and criminal.