Obama Guts Welfare Reform, But CNN Wields Liberal Talking Points to Say Otherwise

CNN relied on liberal analysis and Democratic talking points to dismantle a new Romney campaign claim about Obama gutting welfare reform. On Wednesday morning the network twice cited PolitiFact calling Romney's new ad "Pants on Fire" and quoted former President Clinton calling it false.

As NewsBusters reported, the July HHS directive does away with work requirements for welfare recipients, which was at the heart of the 1996 welfare reform bill. The memo would allow states to creatively redefine the work requirements and replace them with excuses for "work."

Not so, says CNN, who even resorted to quoting former Democratic President Bill Clinton to back up its argument. "Even former President Bill Clinton who orchestrated this welfare-to-work program back when he was president said it's just simply not true," anchor Carol Costello said of the Romney ad.

Of course, Clinton is no non-partisan expert. He has a vested interest in defending Obama considering that he has a prominent role at the upcoming Democratic National Convention. And as guest Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) told CNN, he vetoed the welfare reform bill twice before signing it.

PolitiFact, meanwhile, relied on a "left-leaning" group that supported the new HHS directive for its analysis. "What does all that mean?" PolitiFact asked of the HHS memo before quoting a fellow at the "left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities." It was the only outside expert they quoted to explain the memo; PolitiFact put Romney and conservatives in the opposition argument category.

"The center supports the plan," PolitiFact clarified. Oh, that's nice. So it quoted a liberal group supporting the HHS memo to explain to everyone why it's okay. That's not exactly non-partisan fact-checking.

Robert Rector of the conservative Heritage Foundation – who helped draft the actual welfare reform legislation – called Obama's HHS announcement "the end of welfare reform as we know it." The tough work requirements at the heart of the bill would be "waived or overridden" by the HHS.

"In the past, state bureaucrats have attempted to define activities such as hula dancing, attending Weight Watchers, and bed rest as 'work'. Welfare reform instituted work standards to block these dodges," Rector wrote. "Now that the Obama administration has abolished those standards, we can expect 'work' in the TANF program to mean anything but work."

However, PolitiFact's hackery and Clinton's spin is good enough for CNN to cast opposing claims by the wayside.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on August 8 on CNN Newsroom at 10:33 a.m. EDT, is as follows:

CAROL COSTELLO: With high unemployment and other issues, why would the Romney team release this type of ad now?

Sen. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R-Tex.): Because it is a major change in the work requirement that has been such a good reform. In fact, it's one of the best reforms that has worked. Five million people were on the welfare rolls in 1994. And in 2010, at the end, it was about two million. So it's really put people to work, given them a pride in themselves. There are so many good stories about welfare reform that families now with working people have more income, and their children grow up not in poverty, but seeing a work ethic. And to have guidelines that are now coming out to soften that, Carol, is a very bad thing.

COSTELLO: Well Senator, the only problem with this ad, and I'm sure many people would agree with what you say, but we fact-checked that ad along with PolitiFact, and it's just not true. Two Republican governors asked for these waivers, and the waivers don't remove the requirement that welfare recipients find work.

HUTCHISON: It lessens the requirement and it allows self-help-type programs to be substituted for either job training or the work requirement. And the work requirement is 20 to 30 hours. So it's not a full-time work requirement, but it is a modest work requirement. And Carol, that's the foundation of the bill.

COSTELLO: Well, Democrats say they even have this letter signed by Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts. He appealed to Congress for increased waiver authority in the program for the sake of moving recipients from welfare to work, because the requirements coming down from the government have just made it difficult for states to help these people find jobs. And as you might expect, in these tough economic times, it's hard for everyone to find work.

HUTCHISON: Well, what is important is that the work requirement be in place. Even if it is, in many states they have a state requirement that they can do things for the state that the state can't afford to do right now. Why wouldn't an innovative state be able to say, gosh, we have got all these things that need to be done, but our coffers are strapped. So we will take people who are willing to work. And they are taking welfare and we'll put them to work and we'll give them the opportunity to be disciplined and go to work every day and learn maybe a new trade or a new job.

COSTELLO: But even Mitt Romney, back when he was governor of Massachusetts, wanted these types of waivers because he found it difficult to really truly help people on welfare. He wanted his state of Massachusetts to figure out how to do that best.

HUTCHISON: Well, I think we are talking about the Obama record here and the federal requirements. And I don't think Mitt Romney meant to have self-help programs be substituted for work training and really making the effort to give people the opportunity to earn more and get a job training skill.

And I think we are talking about an Obama overreach. There was no warning that he was going to try to change the rules. It would never have gotten through Congress, what he is trying to do. So whether it's Republican governors who are asking for waivers, I don't think any of them are looking at putting reading and self-help exercise classes in place of work training that will give people an opportunity to be a part of a productive society.

COSTELLO: In fairness, at the time – and going back to when Romney was governor of Massachusetts, he defended a state program that provided automobile insurance and AAA plans to welfare recipients because they had donated cars and they needed to drive to work. And some of these regulations, issued down by the federal government, prevented them from doing that. So I think maybe these Republican governors who requested this of the White House wanted those types of help programs.

HUTCHISON: And I would agree with that. You want to make it easier. That's why there are also capabilities for people to get good child care when they are on welfare and in a work program. That's something that we all support. We would support making it easier to get to work. But I think the welfare reform is one of the most successful that we have had in this country. And I really applaud Mitt Romney for standing up and saying we don't want to, in any way, lessen the work requirement, because it's had a good impact on the standards of families and children who now don't live in poverty.

COSTELLO: Even if that's not really true?

HUTCHISON: Well, I think it is true. I think the guidelines that came out from the Department of Health and Human Services basically said we want to make it easier to solicit waivers for the welfare reform program, including the work reform. And that was the essential part that can't be undone by an administration that is over-reaching. If they had taken this to Congress it would have not have passed –

(Crosstalk)

COSTELLO: Even former President Bill Clinton who orchestrated this welfare-to-work program back when he was president said it's just simply not true. This ad is not true.

HUTCHISON: With all due respect, President Clinton vetoed the welfare reform bill twice before he signed it. And I was glad that he signed it. I thought that was a good thing for him to compromise and go forward. And it has been a huge success. So I think that it was a hard-fought battle. I was there when it happened. I thought it was an excellent program to go forward, and to lessen that now is wrong.

We have food stamps. We're taking care of people who are out of jobs with unemployment compensation. But the welfare program is something that is meant to bring people forward in society and give them a chance to take job training and work and raise their kids seeing them with a discipline to go to work. And it's worked. And softening that is wrong. And that is what the Obama administration did with this Health and Human Services guidelines for really lessening the welfare-to-work part of that bill.

COSTELLO: Well, again, CNN fact-checked that and we found it to be untrue. But Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, we're glad you joined us this morning. We appreciate it.
 

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014