A central pledge of President Clinton’s campaign was to reform the welfare system, adding changes such as work requirements for recipients. However, by 1994, the Clinton Administration appeared to be more concerned with universal health care and no details or a plan had emerged on welfare reform. Gingrich accused the President of stalling on welfare, and proclaimed that Congress could pass a welfare reform bill in as little as ninety days. Gingrich insisted that the Republican Party would continue to apply political pressure to the President to approve welfare legislation.
In 1996, after constructing two welfare reform bills that were vetoed by President Clinton, Gingrich and his supporters pushed for the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), a bill aimed at substantially reconstructing the welfare system. Introduced by Rep. E. Clay Shaw, Jr., the act gave state governments more autonomy over welfare delivery, while also reducing the federal government's responsibilities. It instituted the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, which placed time limits on welfare assistance and replaced the longstanding Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. Other changes to the welfare system included stricter conditions for food stamps eligibility, reductions in immigrant welfare assistance, and recipient work requirements.
Gingrich and Clinton negotiated the legislation in private meetings. Previously, Clinton had quietly spoken with Senate Majority Whip Trent Lott for months about the bill, but a compromise on a more acceptable bill for the President could not be reached. Gingrich, on the other hand, gave accurate information about his party’s vote counts and persuaded more conservative members of the Republican Party to vote in favor of PRWORA.
President Clinton found the legislation more conservative than he would have preferred; however, having vetoed two earlier welfare proposals from the Republican-majority Congress, it was considered a political risk to veto a third bill during a campaign season with welfare reform as a central theme. As he signed the bill on August 22, 1996, Clinton stated that the act "gives us a chance we haven't had before to break the cycle of dependency that has existed for millions and millions of our fellow citizens, exiling them from the world of work. It gives structure, meaning and dignity to most of our lives."