By KEN THOMAS and STEVE PEOPLES, Associated Press
ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Ill. (AP) — 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.
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.
Former President Bill Clinton joined the fray, saying in a statement Tuesday night that the TV ad's assertion was "not true" and that the ad was misleading.
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.
Illinois and its 20 electoral votes are politically safe territory for Obama in the fall. Romney was there for a fundraiser as well as a stop at a manufacturing company, part of the intense competition between the two candidates to stockpile cash for the stretch run to Election Day.
Romney picked up more than $2 million during his swing through Chicago, and another fundraising evening in West Des Moines, Iowa, gave him at least another $1.8 million.
The president was speaking at two private events, one of them a fundraiser, at a hotel a few blocks from the White House. And after being outraised by Romney in recent months, his campaign announced a fundraising "shoot-around" and dinner in New York on Aug. 22 featuring several professional basketball stars.
In a race as close as this one, the taunts were getting personal.
Romney, interviewed on Fox News, said Obama was "saying things that are not accurate" when it comes to taxes. He referred to a crack the president made on Monday night as "Obama-loney," rhyming it with baloney.
At a fundraiser, Obama called Romney's tax plan Robin Hood in reverse — "Romney Hood" — and repeated his accusation that it would mean tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans while forcing the middle class to pay the IRS as much as $2,000 more a year.
The president wants to extend tax breaks due to expire at all income levels, except above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for a couple. He has made his proposal central to a pitch to middle- and working-class voters as he seeks a second term with unemployment at 8.3 percent.
Romney wants to keep the tax cuts in place at all income levels, and has proposed an additional 20 percent reduction in rates.
Romney's decision to introduce the welfare issue into the campaign seemed aimed at blue-collar, white working-class voters in a weak economy, and suggested that Obama might be gaining ground politically with his position on taxes.
It also marked an attempt to take the gloss off the recent announcement that Clinton will have a prime-time speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. early next month.
Appearing before hundreds of supporters at a manufacturing plant near Chicago, Obama's hometown, the Republican challenger said bipartisan legislation signed into law by 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.
Romney's new ad buttressed the point.
"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."
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.