WASHINGTON -- Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) was in a tight political spot this past summer. His party's nominee, Mitt Romney, was railing against the Obama administration for proposing a reform to welfare that would allow states more flexibility with respect to the program's work requirement. Herbert had already expressed interest in getting a waiver for that very purpose, but suddenly he was faced with intense, election-season pressure to change course.
Herbert chose a middle path. He never explicitly walked away from his support of state-centric welfare reform, but he didn't pursue the changes with much vigor either. Now that the election is over and Romney has lost, however, the attacks on the president's welfare policy have run out of steam.
Speaking outside the White House after meeting with the president on Tuesday, Herbert told The Huffington Post that he was ready to again pursue the reforms he had to put on hold.
"Campaigns are campaigns," he said, "and now it is time to govern."
Asked specifically whether he would still go after welfare reform in his state as planned, Herbert replied with a definitive "yes."
"We will always look for better ways to do things, and in Utah, we have been able to do more with less," he said. "That has been part of our history ... and when we talk about welfare reform we are talking about doing things better, improved outcomes and keeping in mind the importance of spending the taxpayers' dollars as efficiently as possible."
Herbert added that welfare was not the only area where efficiency could be improved.
"It could be transportation, education -- we get a lot of money from the federal government but it comes with a lot of strings," he said. "I've suggested we could take 20 percent less money, take away the strings, and do more with less."
A White House official said that Herbert had yet to make a formal waiver request. The governor said he and his staff were looking into it. Under Obama's policy, the Department of Health and Human Services would grant waivers to states to run pilot projects to increase employment among welfare recipients. States would be required to hit certain benchmarks, including a 20 percent increase in welfare-to-work recipients.
Romney attacked the proposal as something that would gut the fundamental underpinning of the landmark 1996 welfare reform law. The president countered that his plan was based off of the type of federalist approach for which Republicans often pine. On Tuesday, Obama offered a similar proposal with respect to Medicaid policy.
"President Obama pledged to us to take a look at suggestions we have got on more flexibility when it comes to Medicaid," Herbert said. "My state has made a number of requests for waivers. We have seen some. Some they have denied," said Herbert.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D), appearing alongside Herbert and several other governors at a press conference, added the following: "The president said he was very supportive of streamlining federal oversight. As long as our goals are in line with the objectives of the program and the objectives of his administration, they are very open to the discussion about how we can experiment and do things in a more streamlined way."