Some Democrats may write bill for welfare reform

January 07, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Disappointed over signs the administration is delaying action on welfare reform, moderate Democrats in both houses of Congress are drawing plans to introduce their own reform bills in an effort to pressure President Clinton to act.

"It's quite possible people on the Hill will move on their own, not against the administration, but to show there is bipartisan support for welfare reform this year along with health care reform," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn.

In the House, the Mainstream Forum, an organization of centrist Democrats, is planning to send Mr. Clinton a letter, perhaps as early as today, urging him to reconsider the apparent decision to delay the introduction of an administration welfare reform bill. "It's clear their feet need to be held to the fire on this," said Rob Herman, an aide to first-term Rep. Eric D. Fingerhut, D-Ohio, a leader in the group.

Aides to House members active in the group -- which attracted 77 signatures to a letter last October pressing Mr. Clinton to emphasize welfare reform -- met Wednesday to map out options for moving forward on the issue. "We are seriously considering introducing legislation," said one aide who attended the meeting.

Observers agree it would be extremely difficult for legislators to advance a welfare reform proposal without administration support and with the leadership of both houses generally favoring the idea of emphasizing health care over welfare reform in 1994.

But a revolt by moderate Democrats could embarrass the president, whose campaign promise to reform the welfare system was a cornerstone of his effort to define himself as a "new Democrat."

Already, the president is under fire from Republican leaders such as House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., who accuse him of backing down from the issue to avoid a fight with Democratic liberals.

An interagency administration task force has substantially completed recommendations for a major overhaul of the welfare system, including requirements that all recipients work after two years on the rolls.

But over the past few weeks White House officials have repeatedly signaled that the administration intends to delay introduction of welfare reform legislation until later this year to avoid conflict with the health care bill, which is expected to require a vast amount of time and effort in Congress and the executive branch. One ranking White House official said this week that the welfare bill might not be introduced until September.

White House officials have argued that attempting to push welfare and health care reform simultaneously would overload the tax-writing committees in both Houses, which must consider both bills.

In an interview, Mr. Lieberman said he will introduce Senate legislation soon that would advance the welfare reform effort "in a step-by-step way."

Although the bill isn't in final form, he said he intends to propose that the federal government underwrite intensified experiments in the states with a series of reforms aimed at changing incentives for recipients.

Among them: denying additional benefits to women who have children while already on the rolls; requiring welfare recipients to keep up their children's school attendance; and allowing women who cooperate in obtaining child support awards to keep more than $50, the share the government gives them now from each payment.

Mr. Lieberman said he is also interested in encouraging some states to experiment with conservative author Charles Murray's proposal to cut off welfare benefits entirely for children born out-of-wedlock.

Such an experiment, Mr. Lieberman said, might start by cutting off welfare solely for teen-age mothers, as proposed in legislation introduced by House Republicans.

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