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Gary Herbert, Utah Governor, Won't Endorse Romney Claim That Obama Is Gutting Welfare Reform

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Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, seen here in April 2012. (AP Photo/The Salt Lake Tribune, Leah Hogsten)
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, seen here in April 2012. (AP Photo/The Salt Lake Tribune, Leah Hogsten)

TAMPA, Fla. -- One of the Republican governors who sought waivers to welfare's work requirements said Monday he doesn't like the way the Obama administration is trying to grant that request, but Utah Gov. Gary Herbert declined to endorse Mitt Romney's claim that the initiative guts the 1996 welfare reform.

"The idea of flexibility is something that all states want to have," Herbert told The Huffington Post.

Indeed, the Utah Department of Workforce Services wrote two letters to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services seeking "waiver authority" so that the state's welfare officials could focus more on outcomes -- such as getting people jobs -- than on assembling data to meet narrow prescriptions in the law.

Utah officials had made the same request in an earlier congressional hearing, and Herbert said that what Utah really wanted was for Congress to add flexibility to the law.

"It has to be done through reauthorization through the Congress," Herbert said. "Some of the concern was that by executive order, some things were being done that ought to, in fact, be done by Congress. What we want to make sure with the flexibility, what we're doing in Utah and what I think other governors want to do, is make sure work is a significant component part in order to get government assistance."

Asked directly if the sort of flexibility the Obama administration offered earlier in the summer gutted welfare reform, Herbert merely repeated that he didn't want the change to "circumvent the Congress."

"I had my attorney look at it -- it's about three or four pages -- and even he read it and said, 'I don't understand what this means,'" said Herbert. "So having the executive run around the Congress is not the right way to do it. Flexibility is certainly a part of it, but we need to work with Congress and make sure that we don't gut the work requirements."

The administration's proposal does not actually offer to waive work requirements. It asks states that are interested to suggest ways they might be able to get more people into jobs if they had more flexibility in running welfare-to-work programs. It also requires that the results be verifiable.

Numerous fact-checkers have panned Romney for continuing to claim Obama gutted welfare reform, yet the Romney campaign and its surrogates -- including House Speaker John Boehner earlier on Monday -- are still making the assertion.

Herbert has not joined that chorus and declined to do so in a recent letter to the administration.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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