Finally, a Romney Broadside on Welfare Reform

It’s been a month since the DHS announced new Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) waivers, and that’s given the department time to slo-o-w-w-ly explain why it’s not gutting welfare reform as we know it. From their last memo, arguing that states want and need this:

States will be required to put in place a federally-approved evaluation and interim performance targets that ensure an immediate focus on measurable outcomes. Their performance in meeting these benchmarks will be publicly available, so everyone can evaluate how states are doing. If states are not meeting their performance targets, their authority to test new ideas will be terminated.

It’s thorny and explained in a series of memos. It has not, in a month, generated much outrage from governors. It inspired some early criticism from Mitt Romney, but as Arthur Delaney pointed out, Gov. Romney had wanted these kinds of TANF waivers from Congress in 2005. “Increased waiver author, allowable work activities, availability of partial work credit, and the ability to coordinate state programs,” wrote a team of governors, “are all important aspects of moving recipients from welfare to work.”

None of these stories got a ton of attention, which teed up the Romney campaignt to spend the morning debuting new claims about the “gutting” of welfare reform – sourced to the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Nothing odd about that sourcing. In 2008, many Obama ads cited the Center for American Progress. But nowhere in the Romney campaign’s brief is an explanation of how the reform will gut welfare, instead of letting states pursue welfare reform by other means. It cites an ABC News he-said-she-said which just quotes Republicans and Democrats who interpret the new rule differently, and a straight news story in the same vein, but apart from that, it quotes editorials that don’t quite explain the problem. Mickey Kaus’s brief on how the reform might work is the best of its kind, but team Romney doesn’t go there. Its main argument, in a memo from Lanhee Chen, is that the new rule is suspect because Barack Obama himself criticized welfare reform in 1996.

It is an insult to Americans on welfare who are looking for an opportunity to build better lives for themselves. And it is a kick in the gut to the millions of hard-working middle-class taxpayers struggling in today’s economy, working more for less but always preferring self-sufficiency to a government handout. Of course all Americans want to help their fellow citizens having difficulty finding a job in the Obama economy, but they do not want to see the return of a culture of dependency and the reversal of welfare reform’s hard-won gains by a President who never believed in that reform in the first place.

At the start of this, Mickey pointed out that the administration’s politics were “horrible.” I agree. In a month, have they come up with local officials who support the rule change? Where are they? Create a vacuum and the conservative media will fill it, and quickly.