Working to Understand the Welfare Debate

Voters can't depend on the candidates for clarity about planned changes to welfare reform.

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Enter presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney, who hit back hard with a campaign ad accusing the president of effectively gutting welfare reform. The ad claims that under the rule, "you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job." The problem: The ad was quickly denounced as misleading by independent observers, including members of the Republican Party. "People who didn't know the details might be likely to believe it," said Ron Haskins, a Republican and onetime legislative aide who helped draft the original welfare law.

But, as Haskins admits, "This could be a very effective thing for Romney to do."

What? Distort the facts? Is this what we want from these candidates -- a campaign erroneously claiming the president wants "to end welfare reform as we know it" (Romney) or inferring that Romney is responsible for the death of someone's spouse (Obama)?

Needless to say, the back and forth between the two campaigns has confused the debate to the point that it is hard to know, let alone understand, what is true or false about the welfare changes proposed by the administration. Moreover, it remains unclear whether such changes will give the kind of flexibility to the states Gov. Romney called for in 2005, or if this whole issue just another trip down the political rabbit hole.

What a sad commentary -- and what a lost opportunity for those on welfare who define the word "work" as getting a job. 

Michael Steele is the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and served as lieutenant governor of Maryland from 2003 to 2007. He is currently a political analyst for MSNBC.

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