President Clinton accused conservative Republican senators Saturday of trying to hold welfare reform hostage to extreme political views in demanding that unwed teen mothers be denied assistance.
“This approach would punish the innocent children of unmarried teenagers for the mistakes of their parents,” Clinton said in his weekly radio address.
With Senate Republicans sharply divided over the shape of welfare reform, Clinton is trying to help steer the GOP-controlled Congress toward legislation he would be willing to sign into law.
The issue took on increased political importance after the failure of Clinton’s centerpiece health care reform plan and the GOP sweep of the 1994 elections in which Republicans successfully used welfare as a campaign issue.
“Let’s settle our differences on welfare reform without resorting to legislative trench warfare designed to stop real reform at any cost,” Clinton said. “A small minority shouldn’t be able to get away with ‘just say no’ politics.”
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., had hoped to begin debate on legislation to overhaul welfare last month, but had to postpone action until mid-July because of divisions within his party.
The GOP bill pending in the Senate would shift responsibility for Aid to Families with Dependent Children over to states as a block grant. States would be allowed to decide whether to support unmarried teen mothers.
Sens. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C., and Phil Gramm, R-Texas, are among those pushing for an outright ban on aid to teen mothers, tougher work requirements and turning more welfare programs over to the states.
Faircloth said the ban on aid to young mothers was needed to combat illegitimacy, which he said is at the root of welfare dependency.
In his radio address, Clinton did not single out senators by name, but said there were “unsettling signs that progress could fall to gridlock.”