The House of Representatives on Tuesday took up sweeping legislation that would dismantle many elements of the social welfare systems put in place by the federal government over the past 60 years.
There was little suspense about the outcome; Republicans predicted that the bill would be approved late this week on a party-line vote.
“Based on the hysterical cries of those who seek to defend the failed welfare state, you would have thought Republicans were eliminating welfare in its entirety,” rather than just slowing its growth, said Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, who is chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
Archer, declaring that “the Republican welfare revolution is at hand,” said the Republican bill sought “the broadest overhaul of welfare ever proposed.”
For their part, Democrats acknowledged that their substitute measure had little chance of passage but predicted that they would make political gains in the debate by attacking the Republicans as cruel to children.
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., for instance, infuriated the Republicans when he said their “onslaught” on children, poor people and the disabled was reminiscent of crimes committed in Nazi Germany.
Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr., R-Fla., said the comparison was “an absolute outrage.”
The Congressional Budget Office said this week that the Republican bill would cut $69 billion, or 6 percent, from projected spending of $1.1 trillion on welfare, food assistance, child care, Medicaid and other programs over the next five years.
The outlook for the bill in the Senate is murky. Senators of both parties have expressed doubts about the House Republican plan to give each state a lump sum of federal money to help the poor, with few federal standards or guarantees. Many senators say the federal government must retain more responsibility for the use of revenue raised through federal taxing power.
The welfare bill, a cornerstone of the Republicans’ Contract With America, would replace several programs, like Aid to Families With Dependent Children and the school lunch program, which guarantee benefits to anyone who meets the eligibility criteria, with direct cash payments to states. The states could then use the money in any way they chose to assist low-income people.
In its report on the bill, the Congressional Budget Office made these points:
The proposed work requirements for welfare recipients are unrealistic. The bill says that half of single parents and 90 percent of twoparent families on welfare must work. Based on experience with work programs in the past, the office predicted that no states would meet those requirements.
The federal government would save more than $5 billion a year by making legal aliens ineligible for government benefits that they now receive. The budget office said 1.7 million aliens would lose Medicaid coverage, while 1.1 million would be denied food stamps.
The bill would cut $20 billion, or 14 percent, from projected spending on food stamps over the next five years. About 800,000 of the 27 million people now on the rolls would lose their benefits because of work requirements, which stipulate that able-bodied people 18 to 50 with no dependents must work at least 20 hours a week.
Of the 5 million families now receiving Aid to Families With Dependent Children, 2.8 million would lose some or all of their benefits. The number of disabled children receiving cash benefits under the Supplemental Security Income program would be reduced to 538,000 from 900,000.
Rep. Sander M. Levin, D-Mich., told the Republicans, “You use a meat ax against handicapped children and their parents.”