Is the Media Buying the Romney Welfare Attack?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 8 2012 10:59 AM

Is the Media Buying the Romney Welfare Attack?

For a number of reasons -- quick rapid response, lack of local agreement from Republican legislators/executives, overall bogosity -- the Romney campaign's attack on the new TANF rules is struggling. A morning scan of local headlines found very few takes that accepted the "Obama gutting welfare, sending people checks" theory. The Des Moines Register goes with the "Romney says, but Obama says" spin -- good for Romney.

Screen shot 2012-08-08 at 10.26.45 AM

But other local papers doubted the Romney spin. From The Gazette, Iowa:

Republican Mitt Romney opened a new campaign front in Iowa Tuesday by claiming President Obama was attempting to gut federal welfare reforms of the 1990s by weakening the work requirement for recipients – a charge Obama’s camp refuted as a “false, hypocritical attack” that mis-characterized the intent to strengthen the current system with changes supported by state administrators.

PolitiFact trashes the ad -- "Pants on Fire." The AP issues an "Adwatch" and finds that the attack only makes sense if you predict how the Obama administration will use the rules.

The ad also ignores that governors from both parties have called for more flexibility in determining what constitutes allowable work activities under the law. For example, in August 2011, the state of Utah called for waivers that expanded the definition of countable work activities.

But the prediction that I mentioned -- no matter where the rule cames from, Obama will probably use it to gut welfare -- is the same one the Romney campaign's using. Obama was against welfare reform in 1996; ipso facto, he's going to attack it now. There's no evidence that the Obama administration is moving right now to undo welfare reform, when the waivers we're talking about haven't even been issued. There is, however, room to attack Obama for being a liberal who hates personal responsibility. I guess that's why the extremely nuanced Newt Gingrich has been tasked with messaging the issue for Romney today.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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