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Washington • Republicans, led by Sen. Orrin Hatch, plan to force congressional votes in a bid to stop the federal government from granting states waivers to certain welfare rules.

Utah is among the states that have asked for more flexibility and the subsequent plan offered by President Barack Obama's administration has become a flash point in the presidential race.

Republican Mitt Romney and allies, including Hatch, R-Utah, claim the Obama administration is trying to "gut" the work requirements in the landmark 1996 welfare reform law. The White House disputes that, saying it is allowing states to be innovative and will only accept waivers that boost the move from welfare to work by 20 percent. Independent fact-checkers, such as Politifact, say the Romney claim is not true.

But a new report by the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan federal agency, said the administration went about the waivers in the wrong way.

The administration released its plan in July arguing it already has the waiver authority, but a GAO report issued on Sept. 4 said the plan is the equivalent of a new rule, which must be sent to Congress before going into effect.

That technical difference allows Hatch to force the Senate to vote on "a resolution of disapproval" which Democrats can't filibuster, though they can delay it until after Election Day. The House plans to move as quickly as this week on an identical resolution offered by Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Hatch said the White House plan is "bogus" and "an executive power grab," something that should have been debated in Congress.

The campaign of Hatch's Senate challenger, Scott Howell, framed it as a states' rights issue and called Hatch's efforts "Washington D.C., obstructionism."

"This is just one more example of Senator Hatch being out of touch with Utah values and his lack of experience in state government," said Emily Bingham Hollingshead, Howell's campaign manager. Howell is a former Utah Senate minority leader.

Hatch doesn't oppose the flexibility Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has sought from some work reporting requirements, but he said that authority should come through a congressional debate on the reauthorization of the welfare law — not through unilateral action by the White House.

Herbert's office has declined to comment on the political battle, but in July sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius saying that Utah didn't think the government had authority to issue the waivers without congressional action and would only support a plan that continued the move to work.

mcanham@sltrib.comTwitter: @mattcanham

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