DES MOINES—Former President Bill Clinton is pushing back against Mitt Romney's claim that President Barack Obama is trying to reverse bipartisan welfare reforms he signed into law in 1996.
In a television ad released Tuesday and later at an event outside Chicago, Romney criticized a recent Department of Human Services directive that relaxed federal work requirements for welfare recipients in what Obama administration officials said was an attempt to offer states more flexibility in determining who can qualify for state and federal assistance.
Romney's ad featured an image of Clinton and mentioned him by name in accusing Obama of trying to roll back the work requirements approved by the former Democratic president. Speaking to supporters Tuesday, Romney called Clinton's efforts on welfare reform "one of the greatest bipartisan successes we've seen."
But in a statement issued by his office late Tuesday night, Clinton rejected the GOP candidate's assertions, bluntly declaring Romney's claims to be "not true."
Clinton said the welfare reform law he signed emerged after "years of experiments at the state level" and noted that he had granted waivers to 44 states that wanted to implement "welfare to work strategies" before the 1996 welfare reforms had passed.
Clinton suggested Obama was simply being as flexible as he was, pointing out that the recent DHS directive came at the request of Republican governors in Utah and Nevada.
"The (Obama) 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," Clinton said in his statement. "The welfare time limits, another important feature of the 1996 act, will not be waived."
Clinton called Romney's ad "especially disappointing" because Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, had pushed Congress to give states more power to control their welfare measures.
"We need a bipartisan consensus to continue to help people move from welfare to work even during these hard times, not more misleading campaign ads," Clinton said.
But the Romney campaign did not back off its claims.
"President Obama was a vocal opponent of the innovative, bipartisan welfare reforms that President Clinton and a Republican Congress passed in 1996. His administration has now undermined the central premise of those reforms by gutting the welfare-to-work requirement," Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said in a statement. "Unlike President Obama, Mitt Romney has a record of fighting to strengthen work requirements. As president, he will ensure that nearly sixteen years of progress aren't erased with one stroke of a pen."