A massive bill to overhaul welfare advanced Wednesday after negotiators agreed to an experimental change in the federal school lunch program instead of abolishing it altogether.
The sweeping measure would replace the 60-year-old federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children program with block grants to states; trim food stamp benefits; curb aid to immigrants, disabled children, drug addicts and alcoholics; and set up several demonstration school lunch projects.
The new version of the bill, which emerged Wednesday from a House-Senate conference committee, would save an estimated $58 billion over seven years, House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Archer, R-Texas, said.
Exactly how the committee melded the House and Senate bills was not immediately public. Four moderate Republican senators, however, sent a letter Wednesday to Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., saying they were “dismayed at the significant changes made to the Senate bill in conference” and had “strong reservations about this agreement.”
Clinton once praised the Senate-passed welfare bill, but indicated he would veto the conference version if it cut too deeply.
Sen. James Jeffords, R-Vt., with his committee vote Wednesday provided the majority needed to move the bill back to the floors of the House and Senate. But he cautioned that his action was not a signal of how he vote on it on the floor.
The bill had been blocked for weeks by Jeffords and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind. They had refused to give in to House demands that the federal school lunch program be replaced with block grants so states could set up their own feeding programs.
At least one of their signatures was needed to move the bill out of the conference and back to the House and Senate for final votes.
Lugar never did give in, but Jeffords signed off on the bill late Wednesday when negotiators agreed to limit the block grants to demonstration projects in no more than one state in each of seven regions.
The experimental programs would have to maintain the same nutrition requirements as current law and the same level of service to children, said a spokesman for Jeffords.