Santorum Says Obama ‘Potentially’ Could Gut Clinton’s ‘Signature Achievement’

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(CNN) — Republican attacks against the Obama administration’s changes to the way states administer welfare programs continued Thursday, though leading surrogates for Mitt Romney seemed less certain than when the attacks began that the changes would definitively end welfare’s work requirements.

Speaking on a conference call organized by the Republican National Committee, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum would only say that the changes would “potentially” gut the work requirements, a charge President Barack Obama’s administration denies.

“This president obviously is orienting his administration to weaken this work requirement and potentially gut this work requirement,” Santorum said.

Santorum pointed to what he said was a “pattern” by Obama of increasing “government dependency,” saying “the idea that they are going to strengthen this work requirement is absurd.” He said that pattern led him to believe work requirements in welfare would be altered by potential Obama administration changes.

Another former contender for the 2012 GOP nomination – former House Speaker Newt Gingrich – similarly toned down his remarks on Obama’s welfare changes Wednesday, saying on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” that there was “no proof today” that the welfare changes would result in a gutting of work requirements.

“We have no proof today, but I would say to you under Obama’s ideology it is absolutely true that he would be comfortable sending a lot of people checks for doing nothing,” Gingrich said.

When Republican attacks on the welfare changes began on Tuesday, the charge against Obama was dire – a television spot from Romney’s campaign and the RNC said “President Obama quietly announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements.”

Representatives for Obama pushed back on the charge, saying it misconstrued the changes enacted by the Department of Health and Human Services.

“The HHS guidelines have made clear that no waivers would be granted unless the states could demonstrate that they will increase by 20% the number of individuals who are moved from welfare to work,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday.

Romney himself showed no signs of backing away from the charge that Obama’s changes were “gutting” welfare work requirements on Thursday, saying on the Bill Bennett Morning Show Obama was “taking out the work requirement in welfare.”

“The impact for the poor in this country, and for the future of this country, is severe,” Romney said. “I think the American people are very disturbed by a policy of removing work from welfare.”

The directive in question allows individual states–which have received a waiver from the Health and Human Services Department–to experiment with changes to their federally-funded welfare-to-work programs.

The program affected by the directive — the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) — was created by the bipartisan welfare reform law signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1996. That measure was considered a win for conservatives, who long pushed for a provision that required work training for Americans receiving government assistance.

On Thursday, Santorum called the law Clinton’s “signature achievement,” noting he was involved with the measure’s passage as a senator from Pennsylvania.

“We did it, as you ultimately see, in a very bipartisan way,” Santorum said. “We got, I think, seventy votes in the Senate. And of course, Bill Clinton, after opposing it, came around to understanding that this was what’s best for America. Best for people. Relying on themselves for work.”

“All of those things aren’t harsh, they’re not mean, they’re the kind of things necessary to have people be able to provide for themselves,” Santorum added.

Romney said on the Bill Bennett show Obama was “not a Bill Clinton Democrat,” and slammed the president for “undoing Bill Clinton’s signature law.”

By Kevin Liptak – CNN

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