WASHINGTON -- House Republicans emphatically agree with Mitt Romney that stay-at-home moms work just as hard as anybody in the workforce. But when it comes to applying that standard to mothers on welfare, they draw the line.
Romney weighed in on the work of stay-at-home moms last week after Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen suggested that Ann Romney, a stay-at-home mom, had "never worked a day in her life." Mitt Romney defended his wife's choice to stay home with their five sons by saying, "All moms are working moms."
"Well, I agree," Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said of Romney's comment.
But when Mica was informed of a Democratic bill that would allow child rearing to count toward the required "work activity" that must be performed by recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families -- the federal program born out of welfare reform in 1996 -- he had a change of heart.
"It's a stretch. It's a stretch. It's a stretch," Mica told The Huffington Post earlier this week.
Specifically, the bill, called the Women's Option to Raise Kids (WORK) Act, would allow low-income mothers with children ages 3 and under to stay at home with their children and continue receiving benefits. It will be introduced by Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) and has about half a dozen Democratic cosponsors.
"It really is a luxury these days for a mom to be able to stay home and raise the kids," Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a cosponsor of the WORK Act, said Thursday on MSNBC. "But if you're lower income, it's just virtually impossible right now not to look for some outside income."
Mica tried to explain why he thinks the work of stay-at-home moms is different from other kinds of work.
"It is work, but it isn't work in the normal sense that you would qualify for those kind of benefits," he said.
Asked if he understood the point that Democrats were trying to make with their bill -- that if everyone agrees that raising children is real work, the government should treat it as such, too -- Mica said he did.
"I see the argument. Yeah," he said. "But it doesn't pass the test."
Some Republicans became irate as they tried to square their views on the work of stay-at-home mothers with the aim of the Democratic proposal.
"Anybody who knows what they're talking about would know it's darn hard work," said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "The entire issue is that women bear a disproportionate share of the hard work. Birthing, carrying, the whole thing -- it's hard work."
But he raised his voice when asked if that meant he could support the Democratic bill.
"Of course not!" he said. "I'm for jobs!"
Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), who is running for Senate, called the Democratic bill "disgusting."
"Frankly, the idea that Democrats are doing something like this is disgusting," Mack said. "That being said, we should honor women not only for the work they do outside the home, but for the hard work at home."
Tea Party favorite Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) described raising children as "the most precious and valuable work that gets done in America." But he scoffed when he learned of the Democratic bill.
"There are lots of things we can describe as work. Is raising children as a mother work? Is raising children as a father work? Is washing the car work?" King asked. "I'd like to be paid for washing my car, but we have to draw the line somewhere."
The Iowa Republican said the most important work is "raising children right," and part of that means that "they get the message to be self-reliant, not to rely on the government, but to be self-reliant as Ann and Mitt Romney's five sons are."
He speculated that Mitt and Ann Romney's values would be quite different if Ann had been collecting TANF benefits while staying home raising her sons.
"They wouldn’t be saying, 'Go out there and get a job and contribute to the economy and pay taxes.' They would be saying, 'Find a way to game the system,'" King said. "Mothers would start to teach that to the children even more ... because they would be rewarded for gaming the system."
Not all House Republicans had such strong reactions to the idea of the government treating child rearing as work.
"That has some logic to it," Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said when he learned of the Democratic proposal. Asked if he could support it, he said it's possible.
"I'd definitely consider it," he said.
Bishop guessed that some of his GOP colleagues were having such strong reactions to the bill because they didn't agree with the TANF program in the first place. In the case of his own family, he said his wife stayed home to raise their kids, which was financially challenging since he was a schoolteacher and she was a school secretary.
"Unfortunately, I'm not one of the rich people here," Bishop said.
Freshman Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), a father of six, said nobody knows better than his wife that being a stay-at-home mom is hard work. She has a book out on the topic and, in the wake of Rosen's comments, she went on CNN and CNBC to push back. Duffy and his wife are already known TV personalities: They were both castmates on MTV's "The Real World," which is how they met.
"It reeks of politics," Duffy said of the Democratic bill. He acknowledged that some parents have the ability to choose to stay home because they have the money to do it, while others don't. But Duffy never quite answered the question about whether he thought the government should classify raising children as work.
When asked about the idea of Ann Romney babysitting for low-income moms who can't afford to stay home, Duffy didn't offer much of a response, though said she would be able to say she understood how hard they had to work because she went through the same thing.
"You know what, a poopy diaper is a poopy diaper," he said. "Whether you're in a rich house or a poor house."