Newt Gingrich accused President Obama on Wednesday of a secret “radical” plot to end work requirements in welfare reform, brushing aside denials from both the Republican architect of the 1996 bill and the Democratic president who signed it into law.
“I think on the hard left, there is an unending desire to create a dependent America,” Gingrich said.
“It’s not just that Obama is a radical, it’s that the people he appoints are more radical,” he said.” Gingrich also accused Secretary of Health and Human Service Kathleen Sebelius of lying when she pledged to veto state requests to water down work requirements in welfare.
Gingrich joined Mitt Romney and other Republican leaders in contrasting former President Bill Clinton, whom they now hold up as a model of bipartisanship, with Obama.
“In many ways Obama is the anti-Clinton,” Gingrich, who clashed frequently with the president as speaker of the House in the 1990s, told reporters. “Clinton tried to move the party to the center, Obama’s moved it to the left.”
Gingrich also gushed of his former target: “I hope every American when they watch Bill Clinton speak will realize how much weaker and less effective Obama is than the man who is nominating him.” He called Obama “a direct threat to my two grandchildren’s future.”
But Gingrich’s repeated insistence that Obama had gutted work requirements in welfare were flatly false. Despite Gingrich’s praise, Clinton himself decried the latest attacks from the right as “not true” and “misleading.” The Republican aide who crafted the 1996 law, Ron Haskins, said Wednesday that “there’s no plausible scenario under which it really constitutes a serious attack on welfare reform.”
Gingrich said of Haskins’s rebuttal: “I’m sorry that he has such a lack of imagination.”
The HHS memo announcing the new waiver policy explicitly prohibited any changes that would result in fewer jobs for welfare recipients. Romney and Gingrich’s charge also pits them against the Republican governors in Utah and Nevada who requested the waivers. Romney joined dozens of other Republicans in calling for similar changes in a 2005 letter, saying they would help them better administer the program.
Gingrich dismissed the bipartisan push for waivers, arguing that Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval “have said bluntly they did not ask for this.” While trying to stay out of the political fray, both governors claim that their own requests were not intended to weaken work requirements, a position the White House says vindicates their changes. Utah’s letter to HHS asking for flexibility in what activities counts toward federally approved work requirements, for example, is similar to language in the HHS memo Republicans claim as their smoking gun.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.