Bill Clinton denounces Romney welfare criticism

President Clinton speaks at A Night Out With The Millennium Network at the Old Vic Tunnels May 22, 2012, in London.
Getty Images for Clinton Foundation Fundraiser
President Clinton in London, May 22, 2012.
Getty Images for Clinton Foundation Fundraiser

(CBS News) After Mitt Romney criticized President Obama for"taking the work requirement out of welfare", former President Clinton - who signed the 1996 Welfare Reform Act - came to Mr. Obama's defense.

"After the law was enacted, every state was required to design a plan to move people into the workforce, along with more funds to help pay for training, childcare and transportation. As a result, millions of people moved from welfare to work," Mr. Clinton said in a written statement sent late Tuesday.

Clinton explained that Romney's criticisms of Mr. Obama, where Romney suggested in a TV ad and on the stump that the president removed the work requirement from the welfare law, were "disappointing."

Romney has honed in on a memo issued last month by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that will allow states to apply for waivers from certain parts of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The move, sought by several states, is meant to allow states more flexibility in meeting the work requirement. "The Secretary is interested in approaches that seek to improve employment outcomes," the memo says.

Romney accuses Obama of "taking the work requirement out of welfare"

"The recently announced waiver policy was originally requested by the Republican governors of Utah and Nevada to achieve more flexibility in designing programs more likely to work in this challenging environment," Mr. Clinton added. The Administration has taken important steps to ensure that the work requirement is retained and that waivers will be granted only if a state can demonstrate that more people will be moved into work under its new approach."

"The Romney ad is especially disappointing because, as governor of Massachusetts, he requested changes in the welfare reform laws that could have eliminated time limits altogether," the former president said.

The Obama campaign maintains that the new HHS policy does not remove the work requirement. It called Romney's statements untrue and hypocritical and noted that some Republican-led states had sought the new waiver policy.

For his part, Romney's campaign isn't backing down and released a new web video Wednesday hitting Mr. Obama for not supporting the 1996 welfare bill. It features a quote of then-Illinois state senator Obama saying "I was not a huge fan of the federal plan that was signed in 1996" along with clips of other Democratic senators, including Joe Biden and John Kerry, announcing their support of the bill.

"President Obama was a vocal opponent of the innovative, bipartisan welfare reforms that President Clinton and a Republican Congress passed in 1996," Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said in a written statement. "His administration has now undermined the central premise of those reforms by gutting the welfare-to-work requirement."

CBS News/National Journal reporter Sarah Huisenga contributed to this report.

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.