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Governors Take A Shot At Reforming Welfare States’ Leaders Promise Their Emerging Plan Is Both Bipartisan And Passable

The nation’s governors are close to agreeing on a bipartisan welfare overhaul plan that could be the basis for a congressional compromise, leaders of the group said Saturday as their semiannual conference began.

“I would advise the president to sign the welfare bill that we, hopefully, as governors, will come up with,” said Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican and chairman of the National Governors’ Association. “I think that one will be an improvement over all the bills that have been introduced so far.’

Gov. Bob Miller of Nevada, a Democrat, said the governors will try to hammer out an agreement before the conference ends Tuesday and then lobby Congress and President Clinton to adopt it.

Efforts to revamp welfare were derailed last month as Clinton vetoed a bill passed by the Republican-led Congress.

Miller and Thompson declined to provide details of the emerging governors’ plan at a news conference.

“It’s one that will have bipartisan support, and hopefully we can push it through Congress and have the president sign it,” Miller said.

“Certainly all elements of both Medicaid and welfare are being discussed by both sides. And I’m not going to characterize where we are specifically on any single component, because that would be detrimental to our ability to reach a common solution,” he said.

Forty-seven governors gathered here for the four-day meeting, seeking bipartisan accord on a variety of domestic policy issues. Besides welfare, the issues include Medicaid and worker training.

Three-fourths of the governors present must approve any plan for it to become group policy. Thirty-one of the nation’s governors are Republicans.

The meeting will end Tuesday with speeches by Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination.

Governors said they hope to reach agreements that could ease the bitter, partisan wrangling that has left Clinton and Congress deadlocked over the federal budget.

“If we are to reach a common, bipartisan solution then perhaps that can be … a starting point for the Congress and the president on these critical issues,” said Miller. “We are very close on welfare, perhaps even closer to a common solution on welfare than we are on Medicaid.”

The budget impasse will soon begin disrupting state budgets, since state’s budget decisions are based in part on federal money, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening said during another news conference called by the group’s Democratic governors, he also expressed optimism about an agreement on welfare.

“There are huge areas of uncertainty, for example in the amount of Medicaid for the elderly and for the disabled and youth,” Glendening said.

Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, also a Democrat, said, “We don’t have the luxury of sitting around and arguing about this forever. We’re in the real world where every day we suffer the consequences.”