Sara D. Davis / Associated Press (m97yfmpd20120823202904/600 )
WATERFORD, Mich. — Expanding his attack on President Obama's welfare policies, Rep. Paul D. Ryan charged Thursday that Obama "just wants to do away" with the work requirements mandated by a law President Clinton signed in 1996.
"President Obama passed this new waiver the other day to strip out all the welfare reform work requirements," Ryan said at a fundraiser in Springfield, Mo., repeating a dubious claim that he and Mitt Romney have made for the last week.
For years, some governors have clamored for greater flexibility in federal rules mandating how welfare-to-work programs should be structured. Romney was among them, calling for a waiver when he was governor of Massachusetts.
In mid-July, the administration said it would consider waiver requests from states that want to find “more effective mechanisms for helping families succeed in employment.” Five states, including Republican-led Utah and Nevada, had asked for the flexibility.
The policy would not end work requirements, however, or change central elements of the welfare reform law. Any state that failed to increase welfare recipients’ work-participation rates by 20% would lose its waiver.
But Romney and Ryan have insisted that the waiver would prompt governors to gut welfare work requirements, suggesting this is the result Obama is seeking.
"Obama just wants to do away with all this stuff," Ryan said at the fundraiser, which was attended by Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, among others.
Welfare has long been a highly divisive issue fraught with racial overtones, given the demographics of poverty in the country. So far, polls show Romney and Ryan running well ahead of Obama among white voters, and trailing badly among Latinos and African Americans.
Ryan said his home state, Wisconsin, had pioneered welfare reform.
"When people are on welfare, you get them job training, get their kids day care, get them back to work, move them from welfare to work," he said. "It gets them on a path to prosperity, helps get them dignified lives; it gets them out of poverty."
Later, during a brief conversation with reporters on his campaign plane en route to the Detroit area, Ryan was challenged about his characterization of the waivers, given that they were requested by governors, many of them Republican.
"Read the law," he said. "The law does not give the states the right to waive the work requirements. When we passed the reauthorization of welfare reform, we tightened the work requirements to make sure it was actually getting people to work. And so I believe that the law does not give people that kind of flexibility and that it undermines the spirit of welfare reform, which was to transition people from welfare to work."
He described some of the specific requirements:
"There are 12 different criteria in the law, on going to work, preparing for work, getting an education. Those are good things," he said. "I really think that this new, broad-based waiver authority undermines the spirit of the law, which is getting people back on their feet."
Ryan cut off the discussion after a few minutes. The press corps traveling with his campaign has been clamoring for greater access, especially since he has been granting interviews to local television and radio stations in each place he stops.
He had walked back to the plane's press section the day before.
Earlier Thursday, a television correspondent had rolled an orange from the back of the plane to the front, where Ryan sits. On it, she had written in black marker:
"Hey congressman, thanks for the visit, don't be a stranger."