WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senate leaders and the Bush administration agree on child care assistance for low-income families, but major differences with the House remain an obstacle to passage.
The latest Senate version, unveiled by Democratic and Republican leaders yesterday, is a five-year, $15 billion package. Most of the money would go for an expansion of earned income tax credits for low-income working families with children.
A second element is a new program of grants to the states, which would pass the money along to child-care centers or directly to families to offset part of their child care costs. Church-run centers would be eligible for the federal aid.
Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, and Minority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., described the package as a compromise that has President Bush's support, and said it would break a long deadlock over the child care bill.
But House members were excluded from negotiations with the White House over the package, and the latest version fell short in scope and spending from a version passed earlier this year by the House.
At least one key House sponsor said he would not go along with the Senate's deal.
"There are enormous differences," said Rep. Tom Downey, D-N.Y.
Dole, in response, said the House would be to blame if child care fails to pass. "Now it's time for the House to join the Senate and the White House so this priority legislation doesn't die before Congress adjourns," he said.
Federal child care assistance was backed by both presidential candidates in 1988, but the issue has been stuck in conference committees since clearing the House and Senate. With Congress nearing adjournment and consumed by deficit-reduction battles, the outlook for a child-care bill had appeared to be worsening.
Part of the new agreement is a strategy to bypass the deadlocked House and Senate conferees, who have been unable to resolve differences.
Mitchell said the bill would be included in the Senate's budget deficit-reduction bill -- adding child care to the tax-increase and spending-cut package that Congress is trying to pass before a midnight Friday deadline.
Downey, however, said the House would resist that move.