Congress appears ready to move beyond “political games” and produce straightforward welfare reform that he can quickly sign into law, President Clinton said on Saturday.
“This can be a real breakthrough, a genuine turning point,” Clinton said as he urged Congress to act in a similar spirit to complete action to raise the minimum wage and remove “poison pills” from bills to guarantee employees health insurance and crack down on illegal immigration.
In his weekly radio address, the president said that a decision by key Republican leaders this week to detach welfare reform from a proposal to reconstruct the Medicaid program for the poor is a sign they want to move forward, not court a certain veto.
“We are very close to replacing a broken welfare system with one that requires work, offers opportunity and demands responsibility,” Clinton said.
“If we work hard and work together we should now be able to pass real welfare reform, and do it very soon.”
But some Republicans leaders continued to question Clinton’s resolve to truly reform welfare as he promised during his 1992 campaign; he has since vetoed two GOP welfare bills that had what he called objectionable provisions, including moves to cut off benefits to legal aliens.
“On welfare reform, President Clinton has changed direction more times than Hurricane Bertha,” snapped Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the Republican Conference Committee.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, said, “While we remain hopeful that the president’s words will be supported by meaningful action, we remain skeptical about the president’s ultimate position on welfare reform.”
Republican previous insistence on coupling welfare reform with a bid to convert the Medicaid program into block grants largely administered by the states became a barrier Clinton said he could not cross.
Since states would be able to set their own standards, the president said, this action would “repeal Medicaid’s guarantee of quality health care for elderly Americans, poor children, pregnant women and people with disabilities.”
“I’m determined to make welfare reform the law of the land, but I’ve also made it clear that I will not allow Medicaid to be destroyed, and I don’t care what bill it’s attached to,” Clinton said.
Clinton said he can support what he called “straightforward” welfare legislation introduced in the Senate by Sens. John Breaux, D-La., and John Chafee, R-R.I., or a separate bill offered in the House by Reps. Michael N. Castle, R-Del., and John Tanner, D-Tenn.
Those measures still provide benefits to legal aliens and allow exemptions to time limits.
“They would end welfare as we know it,” he said. “They should be the basis for quick agreement among the parties. And I look forward to having a bipartisan welfare reform bill within the next month.”
Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, also urged House and Senate GOP leaders this week to pass “a sweeping welfare bill” this year.
But GOP sources, asking to remain anonymous, said Dole’s letter was sent only after his campaign aides had been told by congressional leaders that welfare would be moved separately in hopes that Clinton would sign it.
Dole had long opposed separating welfare reform and the Medicaid block grant proposal.
On other bills, Clinton asked Republicans to “put our differences aside for the sake of the American people” and remove objectionable provisions that would prompted him to veto otherwise acceptable legislation.
He said that includes Republican insistence on coupling a new and untested program of medical savings accounts in the Kennedy-Kassebaum bill which would guarantee that people keep their health insurance when they change jobs or when a family member becomes ill.
Clinton has said he can accept medical savings accounts, but only as a limited experiment.
“So I urge them to put aside the political games and let’s come to a quick agreement,” he said.
On another issue - the reform of laws governing illegal immigration - Clinton said he can go along with tougher border controls, withholding jobs from illegal aliens and the speedy deportation of criminal aliens.
But he said Republicans are also bent on “kicking the children of illegal aliens out of school,” a step he said would only lead to more crime while hurting the innocent.
Clinton, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and their daughter Chelsea left the White House at midday Saturday for Camp David in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains where they are to spend the weekend.
The three Clintons walked across the South Lawn from the White House to a waiting helicopter holding hands.
A camera crew, shooting footage for political commercials to be aired this fall, captured the scene.
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