WASHINGTON -- Some Republican governors who earlier championed GOP proposals to overhaul welfare have signed a letter critical of the current bill that would give states more control over the money but restrict those who can receive benefits.
A five-page letter from leaders of the National Governors Association -- which last month fell into partisan bickering over welfare reform -- attacks most of the bill, including the plan to deny benefits to legal immigrants and unwed teen-age mothers and their children.
And while representatives of the GOP governors and lawmakers sought to play down the letter, which was sent out late Thursday night, both Republicans and Democrats privately say it undermines the GOP lock on how to shape a new welfare system.
GOP co-signers are Michigan Gov. John Engler, Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson and Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson. All have stood beside GOP legislators to endorse, at least in general, their revision efforts. "This is a unifying of the Republican and Democratic governors," said Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, chairman of the governors association and a Democrat.
Mr. Dean said that the letter, sent to Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer, a Texas Republican, was instigated primarily by Republican governors. They are concerned that the legislation, to be debated in the committee next week, "has too much micromanagement and does not protect the interests of children," Mr. Dean said.
Mr. Dean, Gov. Thomas R. Carper of Delaware and Gov. Mel Carnahan of Missouri are the Democratic co-signers.
In the letter, the governors thanked the GOP for consolidating dozens of federal programs into blocks of money that the states could use with more flexibility.
But in language one GOP staffer described as "barbs," the governors complained that the federal government was shifting costs to the states, through such provisions as cutting off benefits for some disabled children, alcoholics and drug addicts.
"The governors view any block grant proposal as an opportunity for Congress and the president to provide needed flexibility for states, not as a primary means to reduce the federal budget deficit," the letter read.
The governors also said they opposed the elimination of most federal services for noncitizens. Since the federal government has jurisdiction over immigration issues, "all costs resulting from the immigration policy should be paid by the federal government," the letter said.
Bill Schneider, political analyst for the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said the states have figured out that the federal government "is passing the buck to them in the name of new federalism.
"What they are doing is forcing the states to take the heat," he said. "Congress would just cut the grant, and the governors would have to make the cuts or raise the taxes."
Democrats plan to introduce their own welfare plan this week.