Republican Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama on Tuesday of ditching a long-standing work requirement for welfare recipients, accusing him of fostering a "culture of dependency" and backing up the charge with a new television commercial.
Romney made his accusation in a relatively rare occurrence in the race for the White House -- an appearance before voters outside the small group of battleground states likely to settle the Nov. 6 election.
Appearing before hundreds of supporters at a manufacturing plant in Elk Grove Village, the Republican challenger said bipartisan legislation signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 "reformed welfare to encourage people to work. They did not want a culture of dependency to continue to grow in our country," he said of the then-president and Congress, under Republican control at the time.
He said that, just recently, Obama "has tried to reverse that accomplishment by taking the work requirement out of welfare. That is wrong, and If I'm president, I'll put work back in welfare. ...We will end a culture of dependency and restore a culture of good, hard work," he said.
Outside the Romney event, Obama supporters gathered in opposition, including Rep. Jan Schakowsky.
"The president says you build from the middle, out. And Romney says you build from the top, down," Schakowsky said. "It's the same old trickle down theory that didn't work during the eight years of the Bush Administration."
Illinois and its 20 electoral votes are politically safe territory for Obama in the fall. But Romney's appearance and the building stockpile show how close the November election is likely to be.
"Last month he raised $35 million more than President Obama did, which none of us thought would have happened six months ago," said state GOP Chairman Pat Brady.
Generous donors paid up to $76,000 a ticket. Romney is on pace to raise far more campaign cash than Sen. John McCain did in Illinois four years ago.
Romney Out With New TV Ad
"Under Obama's plan you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job. They just send you a welfare check, and welfare to work goes back to being plan old welfare," the announcer says in the commercial.
"Mitt Romney will restore the work requirement."
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the allegations were "blatantly dishonest ... hypocrisy knows no bounds."
He added that Romney, while serving as Massachusetts governor, had once petitioned the White House to loosen employment rules for those on welfare.
Under the law signed by Clinton and amended a decade later, the federal government does not provide a guaranteed benefit to welfare recipients. Instead, the states receive federal funds and are permitted to establish a variety of programs to benefit the poor. The government imposes a limit on the length of time families can receive aid and requires recipients eventually to go to work.
The Romney campaign circulated material during the day that quoted Obama, then a state senator in Illinois, as saying he "probably would have voted against it" if he had been in Congress.
The Obama administration recently announced plans to issue waivers to states that wanted "to test alternative and innovative strategies, policies and procedures" to improve employment among needy families. It said it was acting after receiving requests from some of the nation's governors, including Republicans in Utah and Nevada. But senior GOP lawmakers attacked the move as an attempt to undermine the welfare-to-work requirements in effect for more than a decade.
Officials with access to detailed advertising information said it appeared the commercial was airing at heavy levels in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia — states where the race is closest.