Gingrich: Attacks on welfare not race-baiting

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said Wednesday that Republican attacks on a new rule from the Obama administration that gives states greater flexibility in administering welfare payments by offering new waivers affecting the work requirement were not motivated by racial undertones.

"The only place that it had widespread tones is in the elite media," Gingrich told reporters Wednesday on a conference call. "The average normal American understood that far more white Americans get food stamps than blacks — to have an honest discussion about dependency doesn't mean you're racist, it means you're worried about the future of people who are being taught to be dependent on the government."

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The White House and Obama campaign have repeatedly argued that the new policy from the Department of Health and Human Services would only consider waivers that "improve employment outcomes," and have criticized the attacks from Mitt Romney's presidential campaign as untrue. Some have suggested that the Republican candidate is focusing on the issue to play to white voters in important swing states; surveys regularly show that voters inaccurately believe a disproportionate amount of welfare benefits minority groups.

Gingrich, however, blasted that argument, saying that while he was "confident some people in the elite media desperate to reelect Barack Obama will yell racism," he did not believe the American people were examining the issue through that prism.


"I think you can have an honest conversation about whether it's good for Americans — notice I said Americans, and not any particular ethnic sub-group — to make them dependent, to deprive them of their jobs, and and have them lean on the federal government," Gingrich said.

The former House Speaker went on to dismiss criticism from Ron Haskins, the GOP congressional aide who was credited as the architect of welfare reform, who said earlier Wednesday that the Romney campaign was being deceptive on the issue.

“There's no plausible scenario under which it really constitutes a serious attack on welfare reform,” Haskins told NPR.

Gingrich replied that he was sorry Haskins "had such a lack of imagination."

Denouncing HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as "a radical" who has "adopted radical views on a range of issues," Gingrich said the Obama administration was looking to subtly undermine the law in whatever way possible.

"On the hard left there is unending desire to create a dependent America. There is a deep repudiation of middle-class work ethic," Gingrich said.

The former presidential candidate said he would continue to highlight the issue in whatever way the Romney campaign would let him, and warned that the president was looking to undermine progress made during his time in office.

"It's not just that Obama's a radical. The people he appoints are even more radical," Gingrich said.

In a statement late Tuesday night, former President Clinton called the Republican attacks on the welfare reform change "disappointing and misleading."

"We need a bipartisan consensus to continue to help people move from welfare to work even during these hard times, not more misleading campaign ads," Clinton said in the statement.