* Romney to go on offensive in Chicago and air new ad
* Obama plan aimed at granting states more flexibility
* Nuance cast aside in bare-knuckled campaign
By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON, Aug 7 (Reuters) - U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will launch a new attack against President Barack Obama on Tuesday, taking aim at the Democrat's plan to waive parts of a landmark welfare-to-work law.
Romney is targeting Obama's plan to let states seek a waiver from the work requirements of a 1996 welfare law that was a signature bipartisan achievement of former Democratic President Bill Clinton's administration.
Romney's attack, laid out in a new television ad and a topic he will address at a campaign event in the Chicago area, is aimed at bolstering his charge that Obama's solutions to many of America's problems is to rely on government.
"Middle-class Americans are working harder and harder to make ends meet. Under President Obama, they have fewer jobs and less take-home pay. And now, President Obama wants to take their hard-earned tax dollars and give it to welfare recipients without work requirements," said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.
The directive from the Health and Human Services Department allows states to pursue a waiver from the work requirement of the welfare law in order to test alternative strategies that would help needy families find jobs. The aim is to give states some flexibility in how they carry out the welfare law as some state governors have advocated, rather than sticking to a rigid formula.
But the health department's decision has generated strong opposition from Republicans. In the House, 76 Republicans complained in a letter to Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who sought to assure them that states will have to move at least 20 percent more people from welfare to work.
But in a bare-knuckled presidential campaign, such nuances are quickly cast aside, and Romney is going full throttle after Obama on the issue.
"Obama guts welfare reform," says the video script of the Romney ad, while a voice says: "Under Obama's plan, you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check."
The attack fits in with Romney's strategy to paint Obama as a big-government liberal unable to take the steps he thinks are necessary to tackle the 8.3 percent U.S. jobless rate.
The Republican is also trying to stay on the offensive after the wealthy former private equity executive has labored to defend his decision not to release more of his tax returns.
The welfare attack, to be played out for the rest of the week, comes as the campaign toward the Nov. 6 election intensifies. Romney goes on a four-day bus tour on Saturday that will take him through the battleground states of Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio.
At the end of the trip, Romney may announce his vice presidential running mate.