Romney targets middle-class voters with charge Obama expanding welfare

(CBS News) On the campaign trail Wednesday, Romney tried to make an issue over a recent and little-noticed change that the administration made in the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.

Romney is trying to use this welfare issue to paint the president as out of touch.

"With a very careful executive action, he removed the requirement of work from welfare," the former Massachusetts governor said in Iowa.

It's a message Romney's also taking to the airways, in a new ad in key swing states.

"Under Obama's plan, you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job -- they'd just send you a welfare check," the narrator in the ad says.

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A screenshot from a pro-Romney campaign ad, "Right Choice" that aired in swing states Wednesday.
A screenshot from a pro-Romney campaign ad, "Right Choice" that aired in swing states Wednesday.
Romney for President/YouTube

Here's the issue: The 1996 law requires that a certain percentage of state welfare recipients be "engaged in work" or specific "work activities," such as education or job training.

Without consulting Congress, the administration last month said it could waive that requirement in the law if states can show they have their own programs to effectively increase employment.

Romney insists that change will ultimately expand welfare -- an explosive charge that's intended to resonate with independent and middle class voters who may decide the election in key swing states, like Colorado, Wisconsin and Virginia.

The reaction from the White House was swift, calling Romney's ad "categorically false" and "blatantly dishonest." It said the change doesn't end welfare-to-work requirements, but instead gives states more flexibility to cut their welfare rolls.

President Clinton -- who negotiated 1996 law with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- said in a statement that Romney's accusations were "disappointing."

But in a conference call today with reporters, Gingrich fired back, defending Romney and calling the change to the law "outrageous."

Romney's message on welfare reform is part of a broader theme his campaign will be hitting hard: arguing that President Obama is, in fact, a big-spending liberal who is changing America by making more people depend on government to take care of them, while hard-working taxpayers foot the bill.

The White House is also arguing that Romney and other Republican governors tried to get similar waivers to the welfare law back in 2005. Romney campaign says those waivers were totally different because they were intended to make the welfare requirements stronger.

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    Jan Crawford is CBS News Chief Political and Legal Correspondent. She is from "Crossroads," Alabama.