The 1996 Welfare Reform Act, which had bipartisan support, is hailed as one of Clinton’s greatest legislative achievements. Clinton believed that the welfare system in place prior to the reform “undermines the basic values of work, responsibility and family -- trapping generation after generation in dependency, and hurting the very people it was designed to help.” Moreover, he thought welfare should be “a second chance, not a way of life.”
The reform worked. Heritage writes:
TANF became the only welfare program (out of more than 70) that promoted greater self-reliance. It moved 2.8 million families off the welfare rolls and into jobs so that they were providing for themselves. Child poverty fell, and single-parent employment rose. Recipients were required to perform at least 20–30 hours per week of work or job preparation activities in exchange for the cash benefit.
The new ad still hammers the president for gutting the work requirements (or “significantly [loosening]” them, see this post for more on that debate) but it’s more focused on painting a stark ideological contrast between the Romney and Obama camps. “Long History” highlights a clip from 1998 showing Obama saying, “I was not a huge supporter of the federal plan that was signed in 1996.” By including this quote, the Romney camp is pointing out that in “gutting” the work requirements, Obama was enacting longstanding ideological beliefs on the issue. The music then shifts to a patriotic beat and says, “Mitt Romney strongly believes work must be part of welfare.” In other words, dependency shouldn’t be a way of life – a stronger middle class needs to remain the goal. The election narrative is indeed becoming a tale of two visions for America.