House Republicans move to soften welfare reform

March 20, 1995|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Rank-and-file House Republicans, who have already sanded some of the rough edges off their welfare reform proposal, are planning further efforts to soften the bill when it goes to the House floor tomorrow.

Republicans have asked to introduce dozens of amendments, many of which would take some of the sting out of the sweeping proposal to overhaul programs for the poor. The House Rules Committee, which is controlled by the Republican leadership, plans to determine today which amendments will be in order.

A child care amendment by Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, R-Conn., is expected to pass without any trouble, sources said. It would provide $750 million in additional child care money over five years for parents forced to work under the Republican proposal.

Another Republican amendment that appears destined for passage would require states to revoke the driver's and professional licenses of parents who fail to pay child support, a provision that President Clinton strongly supports.

In all, more than 150 amendments were submitted by Republicans and Democrats for the coming floor debate, which promises to be one of the most impassioned of this bitterly divided Congress. Welfare reform was one of the key aspects of the GOP "Contract with America" and was one of Mr. Clinton's major campaign themes.

The Republican leadership has been increasingly concerned that negative publicity about its plan, especially concerning food programs for children, is making an impact on the public.

Democrats, meanwhile, appear to be relishing the opportunity to attack the GOP proposal as mean-spirited to children and weak on helping recipients get jobs and become independent.

Almost sure to be debated on the House floor is at least one Republican amendment designed to reduce a possible side effect of welfare reform: an increase in abortions sought by women who would no longer receive benefits for their children.

As it stands, the welfare reform bill denies cash welfare payments to mothers younger than 18 and their children. It would prevent states from increasing benefits to families on welfare who have more babies.

An amendment by Rep. Christopher H. Smith, R-N.J., would provide vouchers for diapers, cribs and other infant-care necessities to parents who have babies while on welfare. Smith argues that such a provision would protect children but discourage women from having babies while on welfare.

Rep. Jim Bunn, R-Ore., has drafted a similar amendment that would offer vouchers to unwed teen-age mothers. "As a pro-life member of Congress, I thought it was quite inconsistent to tell someone with crisis pregnancy to have her babies but refuse to help her," Mr. Bunn said earlier this year.

The Republican welfare proposal shifts much of the authority over the shape of welfare programs to the states, requires that recipients work after two years and limits cash benefits to families to five years over the course of a lifetime.

The proposal is estimated to save $60 billion over five years, largely by making legal immigrants ineligible for dozens of federal programs. No substantial amendments on the issue of immigrant benefits will be accepted during the floor debate, sources said.

The so-called block grants would not grow as quickly as the federal programs do to allow for inflation and population growth.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson called the welfare reform debate "the bottom-line moral issue of our time" and said the GOP proposal "flies in the face of all that we know is right in America." He xTC accused Republicans of "picking on Aid to Families With Dependent Children and not aid to dependent corporations."

Speaking on CBS-TV's "Face the Nation," House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., said: "I think the Republican bill may be in some trouble on the floor this week."

He referred to the U.S. Catholic Conference administrative board, which attacked the GOP welfare plan on moral grounds and suggested that it would increase abortions and hurt children.

But Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said on the same program that the abortion debate would not deter Republicans from their mission of restoring fiscal responsibility to the government.

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