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Mitt Romney on Obama gutting the welfare reform work requirements

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HH: Pleased to welcome back today Governor Mitt Romney. Governor, it’s great to have you back.

MR: Great to be with you, Hugh. It’s been a long time.

HH: Well, President Obama has made it pretty easy for us to figure out what to talk about today. He’s done it again, approving rules out of the HHS to allow states to apply for waivers for work requirements for welfare recipients. Your reaction to that, Governor?

MR: Well, taking work out of welfare is an enormous step backward. There was an enormous bipartisan achievement a couple of decades ago by President Clinton and Republican leaders to change welfare to require work. Then-Senator Obama opposed the welfare reform that required work, and now he has, by this administrative action, been able to take work out of welfare. It’s the wrong way to go, it encourages a cycle of dependency on government that is simply wrong, it locks more people into poverty. We must include work with welfare. When I was governor, I fought to increase the work requirement. The President trying to gut the work requirement is taking us back to a time in history where too many people got trapped in a cycle of poverty.

HH: Now President Obama’s reaction has been, it’s a classic Obama reaction, it’s not my dog, it didn’t bite you, besides, you kicked it first. They said they didn’t undo the work requirement, then they said two Republican governors asked us to undo the work requirement, then they said Mitt Romney wanted to undo the work requirement in 2005. How are you responding to this, Governor?

MR: (laughing) Well, they try and throw a lot of chaff up in the air hoping that they can get someone to follow something other than the truth. First of all, the governors that supposedly requested reducing the work requirement, both of the two governors have said no, we did not, we did not request reducing or eliminating the work requirement. So that story is wrong. Secondly, when I served as governor, a bill came to my desk reducing the work requirement. I vetoed it, and I continued to battle in my state, proposing in my budget, for instance, that we would increase the work requirement and help people get work. I put money in there to help more people get to work and to get more work requirement. And with regards to all the Republican governors writing a letter to Senator Bill Frist, we were asking for more flexibility to the states. We were not asking them to reduce the work requirement. In my view, we should have increased the work requirement. That’s the kind of flexibility I think we ought to have.

HH: Now Governor, there are a couple of patterns here. One is the assertion of authority that the President doesn’t have, and we saw it with the HHS regs which attacked the Catholic schools, universities and hospitals. We saw it with the farm work rules for young people. We saw it with the Boeing plant in Charleston, the secret ballot and the NLRB rules, the Gulf oil spill, illegal immigrants who are here, brought here young getting work permits, the EPA’s ozone rules. Again and again and again, they go way left, then they deny that they’ve gone left, and they denounce their opponents. Sometimes, they walk it back, but most of the time, they just deny they’ve gone way left unilaterally. Is their unilateralism going to be an issue in this campaign?

MR: Well, I think there’s no question but that elections have consequences. And when you elect a president who believes, as he does, and I mean, he is a liberal. I mean, he’s a pre-Bill Clinton Democrat. He’s not a new Democrat like Bill Clinton was. He’s instead an old, classic liberal that believes in bigger and bigger government, bigger and bigger benefits for those who rely on government. He speaks about investing in various things that government’s going to spend more money on. He doesn’t recognize that the greatness of America is derived from free people pursuing their dreams. I mean, the other day, for instance, when he said that if you have a business, you didn’t build it, someone else did that, I mean, that showed a lack of appreciation of what drives America that a lot of people found stunning. And the President said well, you took me out of context. Well, read the context. It’s even worse than the quote. I mean, he is a liberal. There’s nothing wrong with that. He might as well fess up to it. He’s an old-style, old-school liberal, and what we’ve seen, time and again, is those liberal policies do not work. And that’s why you’ve seen the slowest recovery from a recession in American history under this president. His policies, liberal policies, have not allowed America’s economy to come roaring back as it could have and should have.

HH: Now Governor, on the day these HHS rules came out, Senator Hatch and Congressman Camp said wait a minute, you do not have the authority to waive the work requirements, and that’s of a piece. Again, this goes to their unilateralism. They made, the President made recess appointments when there was no recess, he refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. He does things that there is no legal authority for. So in the bigger picture, do you think that’s an issue, as opposed to his policy, his disregard for a coordinate branch?

MR: Well, I think among people who pay attention to the process of governance, and who hold to the Constitution with great strength and passion, this becomes a very big issue. I mean, I do believe that one of the reasons you’re seeing the kind of intensity among many voters in this country, a lot of Tea Party folks and conservatives of various kinds, is that they recognize in this president someone who is skirting by the principles of the Constitution to pursue his own agenda. They disagree with the process. They disagree also with the agenda. But there’s no question. If we were to reelect Barack Obama, he will continue to apply every source of power he can amass to take America in a very different direction than the America we’re, well, that’s been built as the strongest nation on Earth. I mean, if you want to see where America is going, look at California.

HH: Oh, dear. Yeah, I already know.

MR: What’s happening, as you know, higher and higher taxes, and yet larger and larger deficits. And higher and higher taxes driving employers away, and resulting in high levels of unemployment. And I think California schools rank 47th in the nation? And yet they keep talking about, the liberals, that is, oh, we need to invests more in education. The more they invest, and the way they invest, the worse the schools are becoming.

HH: Now Governor Romney, among, back to the HHS rules…

MR: Yeah.

HH: Among people who have studied this, Mickey Kaus comes to mind as probably the best expert. He’s a liberal. But whether you’re using a liberal like Mickey Kaus, or a guy way on the left like Matt Yglesias, or someone like Slate’s Dave Weigel, they all agree what happened here. It’s an attack on the work rules. And Mickey went to say look, all these work rules do, they send signals to people who are considering welfare or are on welfare that they’ve got to get off, and they’re gutting this. And yet you’ve got a consensus on the left except for flaks like Jonathan Chait saying yeah, that’s what happened. But Jay Carney gets up and he says this yesterday.

JC: Now the ad is particularly outrageous as Governor Romney himself, with 28 other Republican governors, supported policies that would have eliminated the time limits in the welfare reform law, and allowed people to stay on welfare forever. Those are not standards the President supports.

HH: So Governor, everyone agrees what the President and his team did, but then the President’s spokesman comes out and says ignore what we did and let’s focus on what Governor Romney didn’t do.

MR: You know, it’s…I mean, what he said has me gasping for air here, Hugh. What the Republican governors all asked Senator Frist to do was give us more flexibility at the state level in programs like welfare that care for the poor. And my own view is everything from Medicaid to welfare to housing vouchers to food stamps, these programs ought to be run at the state level. We were looking for more flexibility at the state level to run these programs in the way we think best. And my record on work requirements in welfare is clear. I vetoed a bill in Massachusetts that tried to reduce work requirements, and I promoted policies to try and increase work requirements. So that kind of statement by Mr. Carney is simply misinformed and misdirected.

HH: Now Matt Yglesias tries to explain what happened with the Obama administration by saying look, recall the Obama administration is not a unitary entity. The administration reflects a Democratic Party as a whole that contains people with different views on the 1996 law. Then he goes to argue that there aren’t enough jobs for welfare people to do. So all of these are excuses, but does that in any way allow the President to unilaterally get rid of a work requirement?

MR: Well, the answer is no. The work requirement is part of welfare. And what he doesn’t want to say is that one of the reasons he’s in trouble here is because of the small number of jobs that have been created, and the number of people who have dropped out of the workforce. And so he’s looking for an excuse somehow to justify the fact that he’s taking out the work requirement from welfare. And in my view, that’s the wrong way to go. We should require work in welfare. And by the way, as you know, there are other options besides work. Education is one of those. We simply have to communicate to people in this country that you cannot live your life by dependence on government. If you’re able-bodied, you must work. And if you can’t find work, you must be going through training programs and so forth so that you’re ready for work. But you have to make an effort to go to work. A lifetime of dependence on government is not the American way.

HH: Now the media, though, is having trouble with this. It’s a complicated story, because a year ago, the Obama team asked for, you know, how can we help you letters. And people in the states asked for A and B, and the President’s team said okay, we’ll give you X, and it’s got nothing to do…but it’s complicated. Are you satisfied the media is doing their job on this, Governor, because this one clearly is another overreach by Team Obama, but it’s being fogged up.

MR: Well, I think that’s what you’ll see with the President from time to time, which is anytime he finds himself in a bit of a corner, he starts pointing in other directions, and hoping people will look away, that the media in some cases is legitimately confused. In other cases, it tends to be of the same mindset as the President, and writes with his perspective as their perspective. But the reality is the President is removing work requirements from welfare, and that is something which is disturbing to the American people, in my view, and is unfortunate for the nation, and for the families involved. Clearly, those people who need help always know that America will be there to care for those that can’t care for themselves. But able-bodied people able to work should have a requirement of work, and should not be able to depend on government.

HH: Governor, let’s close with a couple of political questions. The President’s running an ad in the Olympics that I laugh at every time I see it. I’ve been with other people who are Obama supporters who also laugh at it. This is what it says in part.

BO: Governor Romney’s plan would cut taxes for the folks at the very top, roll back regulations on big banks, and he says that if we do, our economy will grow and everyone will benefit. But you know what? We tried that top down approach. It’s what caused the mess in the first place.

HH: So Governor, you’re advocating policies that will cause a return of the panic in 2008. How do you react to this ad?

MR: (laughing) Well, first of all, I’m not cutting taxes for people at the very top. I’ve said that the fundamental principle of my tax policy is that the high income Americans in our nation will continue to pay the same share of the tax burden they pay today. I want to make it easier for small businesses to keep capital, I want them to grow. My priority is about good jobs. And I’m not planning on deregulating banking. We have to have regulations in banking. But I want to make it easier for small and community banks to make loans, because they’re having a hard time getting loans to small businesses and to start-ups. The President obviously is, well, once again, being dishonest with regards to my plans and my policies, and it’s unfortunate. You know, he’s going to do everything in his power to hang onto power, and I think the American people will see through it.

HH: He has clearly gone to ground, Governor. He’s not doing many press conferences. He hasn’t done one in a long time, and when he does, he answers very few questions. My guess is in 13-14 minutes, you’ve answered twice as many questions as he does in an hour. So he filibusters. He’s going to try that in the debates, because he’s clearly off his game when he’s off the teleprompter. How are you going to combat that without taking on the dignity that we give to the office of the presidency?

MR: Well, that’s a good question. I don’t have an answer for you, Hugh, on just how we’ll work in the debates. That’s something I’ll give a lot of thought to, and obviously, the truth is going to be my defense, and it’s also going to be my weapon. You know, he sometimes has had difficulty with the truth. It may be the victim of his campaign. But I’m going to continue to pursue the truth, and you know, as John Adams said, that facts are stubborn things. And I’ll point out the facts, and of course, he’ll dispute them, and ultimately, people will have to make a decision as to who’s telling the truth. But you know this, it comes down very simply. If people think the last three and a half years are what they want for the next four years, then they ought to vote for Barack Obama. If they think we can do better, if they think a guy who has a plan to get the economy going presents a better shot for getting Americans better jobs with more take home pay, they ought to vote for me. So after all the talk, it comes down to this. Do you want more of what you’ve experienced, or do you want something different and better?

HH: Two last questions, Governor. I’m talking with Bishop Lori of Baltimore a little bit later about these HHS regulations which attacked Roman Catholics’ ability to practice their faith. If you’re president, will you withdraw those regulations?

MR: Absolutely. One of the, I mean, the first right in America is the right to religious freedom. And religious tolerance has been part of America’s culture from our Constitution and Declaration of Independence days. And the idea that the President would impose on the Catholic Church actions which are contrary to the teachings of the Church is simply wrong, and it’s a violation of Constitutional principles, in my view. It’s the wrong course to take. I will defend religious liberty. And religious tolerance, religious liberty, they are part of the grounding of America, and I will defend them.

HH: Last question, speculation is you’re going to make an announcement about the vice president on Thursday. Should I keep my calendar clear on Thursday, Governor?

MR: (laughing) I’ve got no information for you on the VP front. I’ve got to tell you, that’s something, I’ve got nothing for you on that. Sorry, Hugh.

HH: All right, Governor Romney, we look forward to talking to you again soon. Thanks for joining us today.

MR: Thank you. Bye bye.

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