Reform bills put Clinton in quandary Caught between GOP plan, desire to protect children, he weighs a third veto

July 28, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton yesterday expressed a strong desire to sign a bill overhauling welfare this year and hinted broadly that he might accept a version close to that passed by the Senate this week.

But he also warned that he could not support "another extremist bill" like ones he has twice vetoed.

"To those who have doubts about any welfare reform, I say we will never lift children out of poverty and dependency by preserving a failed system that keeps them there," Clinton said in a recorded radio message that he chose not to deliver but instead made a live statement about the bomb at the Olympics.

"And to those who would undo the progress of recent weeks by sending me another extremist bill like the ones I vetoed, I would say we can only transform this broken system if we do right by our children and put people to work so they can earn a paycheck, not draw a welfare check. That's the only kind of welfare reform I can sign," the president said.

Deliberately obscure

Clinton has gone out of his way to avoid saying precisely what would prompt him to veto the latest House and Senate bills, which are being blended by negotiators into a final measure, for fear that Republicans would load the bill with provisions that might force him to block it.

Yet in carefully nuanced comments, Clinton took pains to praise the Senate bill, saying, "It does provide health care and child care, and took some important steps to protect our children." But, he added, "we still have more work to do to promote work and protect children."

White House aides said that, without committing himself to either course, Clinton meant to pave the way for his signing a bill that would end up close to the Senate version and vetoing anything more akin to the House bill.

"Willingness but warning," one adviser said. "Those are the poles."

In several respects, the House version has harsher provisions curbing health and food benefits than the Senate measure.

The House version would bar states from providing Medicaid to noncitizens, while the Senate bill would let states decide whether to do so.

The House bill would allow states under some conditions to quit the federal food stamp program and receive a block grant instead, while the Senate would bar that option and preserve the individual entitlement to food stamps.

Block grants

Both bills would end the 60-year-old guarantee of individual welfare assistance in favor of block grants for states to distribute as they see fit.

They would also impose lifetime limits of five years on benefits and require most adults to go to work within two years of receiving benefits.

Clinton objects to several provisions, including the elimination of benefits for legal immigrants who are noncitizens and a refusal to provide vouchers to help families who have been dropped from the rolls buy vital items, including diapers, for their children.

But congressional Republicans have warned that negotiators from both houses are unlikely to change such provisions, making it all but certain that if Clinton signs a bill, it will be with some misgivings.

Congressional liberals are lobbying for a veto of any bill that emerges from the current negotiations, arguing that it will be flawed and too harsh on children.

By contrast, having made welfare a major issue in his 1992 campaign, Clinton seems determined to try to sign some kind of measure as he heads into his re-election campaign.

"We have a chance to make history," he said. "Our welfare system has nagged at our national conscience for far too long. And if we'll put politics aside and work together, we can once again make welfare what it was meant to be: a second chance, not a way of life."

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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