July 17, 1996 in Nation/World

Clinton Pushes Welfare Limit President Vows To Cut Off Recipients After 2 Years If Congress Doesn’t


President Clinton pledged Tuesday to issue an executive order that would permit the cutoff of welfare recipients after two years if the current effort by Congress to pass a welfare overhaul bill fails.

“We’ll say to welfare recipients, within two years you will be expected to work and earn a paycheck, not draw a welfare check,” the president said by satellite to the National Governors’ Association meeting here.

Clinton’s pledge to the governors, which followed an address by his GOP challenger Bob Dole, drew fire from Republicans who have been angered by what they see as the president’s continuing attempts to take credit for their proposals.

As Congress prepares to vote on welfare overhaul this week, Republicans also questioned whether he could legally order states to do anything, since Congress makes laws.

Rep. E. Clay Shaw, chairman of the House subcommittee that fashioned the welfare bill, laughed when told of the president’s promise of an executive order requiring work.

“I suggest the president pull out the Constitution and read it. He can’t do it with an executive order,” said the Florida Republican. “Congress is going to send him a bill that allows states to do that. Hopefully, he will sign it rather than veto it this time.”

Dole, who also spoke by satellite, called for quick passage of welfare legislation and challenged Clinton and fellow Democrats to return responsibility for welfare to the states.

The waivers from federal welfare rules that the Clinton administration now grants to states fall far short of what’s needed, he said.

“I hope the Congress will pass a tough welfare reform bill, not just any welfare reform bill,” Dole said. “And I challenge the president to finally sign a welfare bill and make these waivers a thing of the past.”

Clinton and Dole both were responding to governors eager to be given welfare power. Votes are scheduled this week in the House and Senate on bills that would end current federal welfare guarantees and provide states with block grants to fund their own programs.

The president said his order would require welfare recipients to accept any job offered after two years, or they would lose their benefits. The president said that 28 states already impose work requirements and time limits on welfare.

The proposal, announced just four months before the presidential election, appears calculated to protect Clinton politically if Congress fails to pass welfare legislation or if he decides to veto what it does pass.

“I far prefer a bill passed by Congress and I know you do, too,” Clinton said. But “one way or another, we will make work and responsibility the law of the land, but we want a good welfare reform bill.”

Shaw said he was happy to see the president “upbeat” about congressional welfare efforts. Asked if he believed Clinton wants to sign a bill after two vetoes, Shaw said: “I’ve learned a long time ago that I can’t read that man’s mind. I think today he wants one.”

Clinton has twice vetoed Republican welfare proposals in the past and threatened to veto the current legislation when GOP leaders attached an overhaul of Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor.

But last week, the Republicans indicated they would remove the Medicaid provisions, a decision that Clinton said made a welfare bill more possible.

But Clinton and other Democrats are still concerned by provisions in the Republican bill that would deny social services to legal immigrants and limit benefits to some hardpressed recipients.

The governors also have some concerns. They have complained that both the House and the Senate have made changes that take away flexibility without providing enough money to do the job.

Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt flew from the conference to Washington to meet with Shaw on Tuesday morning and discuss changes the governors would like to see.

Congressional leaders will try to respond to specific concerns before a final bill is sent to Clinton, Shaw said. Governors already have had significant say in framing the bill.

“Governors want more and more flexibility to do what they want,” Shaw said. “But every time you move in that direction, you drop someone on the left. It’s a real balancing act.”

xxxx THE REPUBLICAN WELFARE PLAN The Republican welfare bill now under debate would: End the federal guarantee of assistance to eligible families with children. Limit benefits to 5 years. States could exempt up to 20 percent of families from the cutoff. Give states flexibility to design their own systems. Adults have to go to work within 2 years or lose benefits. Allow states to prohibit payments to unmarried teen mothers, and require teen moms to stay in school. Require states to bar additional payments to women who conceive children while on welfare, unless the states opt out through legislation. Reduce the growth in the food stamp program by $28.4 billion over six years and limit the deductions for shelter costs. Bar aid to most non-citizens. Cut off Supplemental Security Income payments to children with less severe disabilities.

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