TAMPA -- It's not getting discussed much in this city. Hey, there are pictures of security fences to be instagrammed! But ever since the Obama administration decided to let states apply for waivers from the work requirements of welfare reform, Mitt Romney has been talking it up as an issue. "There's no question in mind that the president’s action in this regard was calculated to build support for him among people he wants to have excited about his reelection," he told USA Today's Susan Page this week, "just as so many of the things he’s done were designed to try to shore up his base."
After he schooled a "Newt University" class about Mitt Romney's economic plans, I asked Romney policy adviser Lanhee Chen what Romney was proposing to do. States had been asking for a waiver, after all. (I opted not to get into the question that's defined this issue on the triai -- the is-it-racist??? stuff.)
"I think [Romney] would certainly reverse the administration's action," said Chen. "I think it's an open question about what goes beyond that, in terms of asking: Are there ways to strengthen the work requirement of welfare? We don't have any specific prescriptions beyond rolling back the waivers that the Obama administration has proposed to issue."
But what was Obama actually doing? Romney has been switching up his description of the change. In ads, we've been told that Obama "ends the work requirement," and we've been told that he only "plans" to end it. Which was it? End or plan to end.
"We think that it does both," said Chen. "It opens the door, an if you open the door, people are going to walk through it. He's expecting that, in the future, you'll see states weakening these work requirements. Different states have looked at it differently, but there certainly is, I think, a pretty commonly held belief among conservatives, at least, that you don't do something like this unless you expect states to follow through. This is interesting: If you look at the welfare law, the only section of the law that was deemed unwaivable was the work requirement. This decision circumvents that."