Children to be 'power issue' under Clinton, congressional advocates say

January 05, 1993|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Anticipating strong support from Bill and Hillary Clinton, congressional advocates of family and children's issues said yesterday they expect there will be "a new, family-friendly Washington" in 1993.

With Congress convening today, they predicted swift enactment of the Family and Medical Leave Act and more money for children's immunizations, the Head Start preschool program and other services.

"I really think we've got a chance of getting some momentum" and making children "a power issue," declared Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo. "They've never been seen as a power issue."

Children's advocates expect help not only from the new president but also his wife, a lawyer who has long been active in the Children's Defense Fund and has pushed for stronger federal support for families.

Mr. Clinton has promised to sign family and medical leave legislation that President Bush vetoed last year. Congressional supporters expect quick passage of the bill, which would entitle workers to an unpaid leave of absence of up to 12 weeks to care for a new child, to recover from a serious illness or to aid an ill relative.

Ms. Schroeder was joined at a news conference by Sen. Christopher S. Bond, R-Mo., and Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-Va.

Mr. Bond said Congress and the administration "didn't get the job done" last year on family issues.

"This will be the Congress that does something for kids. The American family is the very foundation of our society, yet if anything, government policy seems often times to burden families, or ignore them," he said.

The lawmakers said the top priority would be bills vetoed by Mr. Bush or left unpassed by the last Congress.

Some bills would cost more than others:

A family and medical leave law would cost employers just $5.30 per covered worker per year, according to a fact sheet distributed at the news conference. But it would cost up to $9.8 billion over four years for full funding of Head Start, children's immunizations and the supplemental food program for women, infants and children.

The lawmakers also would spend $2.2 billion over five years on improved child welfare services and $1.9 billion over five years on substance abuse treatment for low-income pregnant women, parents and children.

Ms. Schroeder and her colleagues also said it was time for Congress to become more sensitive to members' families. With that in mind, the lawmakers joined the Nickelodeon cable network last night in sponsoring a party for new congressional families in a House office building.

Ms. Schroeder said she hoped the party would help mark the "beginning of a new, family-friendly Congress and a new, family-friendly Washington."

Mr. Wolf, who has five children, termed Congress "one of the most anti-family-friendly institutions in this country" and blamed the leadership for the problem. He noted that members' personal office staffs wouldn't benefit from family and medical leave legislation because it exempted organizations with fewer than 50 workers.

Congressional committees with more than that number of employees would be covered by the law, however, an aide to Ms. Schroeder said.

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