Child-Care Funds Added To Welfare Reform Changes Make Bill More Palatable To Democrats, Moderate Republicans And Increase Chance Of Passage
Senate leaders agreed Thursday night to add more money for child care in a welfare reform bill, removing a major obstacle to passage of the sweeping legislation.
Pushed by Democrats and moderate Republicans, Senate leaders added an extra $3 billion to the $5 billion already in the bill for child care.
Supporters argued that helping mothers get child care is crucial to helping them find and keep jobs.
Both Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas and Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said the agreement was essential to getting a welfare bill passed.
Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said the child-care agreement, together with other changes in the bill, could prompt as many as three-fourths of Senate Democrats to vote for the Republican measure even though they object to many provisions.
“It’s the question,” he said, “of do you take something being offered to try to make it better so it won’t be so crippling.”
However, Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, said the child-care compromise means the bill won’t be able to achieve the $70 billion in welfare savings over seven years that had been promised in the congressional budget resolution.
Gramm said the bill shows the Senate has moved away from the commitments the Republican Party made during the last election. “When we get down to the tough decisions, we are always moved to the left,” Gramm complained.
The welfare bill represents a major change in how the federal government would deal with poverty in families headed by unwed mothers. It would end the federal government’s guarantee that all eligible mothers and children would receive aid with a new system giving states wide discretion in running the program.
The bill would require many welfare recipients to go to work after two years of benefits, set a five-year lifetime limit on receiving welfare and give states the option of denying aid to teenage mothers and women on welfare who have more children.
After Senate passage, differences between the Senate bill and the more conservative House measure will have to be worked out. Congressional Republicans also would have to decide whether to compromise with President Clinton, who has expressed major objections to the House-passed bill. It is unlikely Republicans could pass a bill over Clinton’s veto.
The House version of the bill would not require states to continue spending state money on welfare, would provide less child-care assistance, deny cash aid to teenage mothers and bar states from giving additional aid to women on welfare who have more children.
The House version would also bar welfare aid to most legal noncitizens, unlike the Senate version that would disqualify aid only to immigrants who come to the United States after the bill is enacted.
Earlier Thursday, the Senate agreed to give bonuses to states that reduce their illegitimacy rates without increasing abortions.
The action was a victory for conservatives intent on using the welfare bill as a vehicle for discouraging out-of-wedlock births.
On Wednesday, conservatives lost a bid to end the government’s practice of giving additional benefits to women who have more children while on welfare. They also failed in an effort to deny cash benefits to teenage mothers.
But it was a different story Thursday as the Senate voted 63-37 to reject an effort by Sen. James Jeffords, R-Vt., to remove the state bonuses from the welfare bill.
Jeffords predicted that there would be no sure-fire way to tell whether states were reducing out-of-wedlock births without increasing the numbers of abortions. He suggested that there would be pressure for women to go out of state to get abortions and that more back-alley abortions might be performed.
But conservatives argued that deleting the provision would mean that the welfare bill would include no strategy to combat the illegitimacy problem.
“There is always an excuse not to deal with this issue,” said Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. “Let’s quit finding excuses to do nothing.”
The illegitimacy bonus, which is also included in the House bill that passed in March, would give states 5 percent more in federal welfare aid for a 1-percentage-point reduction in the state’s illegitimacy rate. The maximum bonus would be 10 percent.
“If we succeed we save more in dollars and lives than any bonuses we pay to the states,” said Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich.
The child-care issue was a stumbling block partly because the Congressional Budget Office said there was not enough child-care money in the bill to ensure that states meet the bill’s goal of putting half of welfare recipients to work by 2000.
The lack of adequate child-care funding has drawn bipartisan concern from children’s advocates and lobbyists for state governments afraid that child care would strain their budgets.
To deal with the problem, the Senate bill says women with children under the age of 5 can be exempted from the work requirements.
But since that exemption covers as many as 60 percent of the adults on welfare, some lawmakers complained that it would undermine reform.
“This is not reform,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “This is shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
A Democrat proposal, by Sens. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, to add $6 billion to child care narrowly lost earlier this week. Several Republicans said they agreed with the Democratic arguments, but could not see adding that much money.
GOP Sens. Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, John Chafee of Rhode Island and Orrin Hatch of Utah pushed Dole to compromise.
“I worry about latchkey children, I worry about 6- and 7-year-olds who are taking care of babies,” said Hatch.
Too many people forget that 10 million children are on the welfare rolls, he said. “What we are talking about is the simple enough notion to provide some kind of safe setting for these children.”