Congress moved toward a fundamental reshaping of the welfare system on Thursday, passing legislation to transfer control of welfare programs to states and set time limits and work requirements for recipients.
The House approved its bill 256-170, and the Senate is expected to pass a similar measure early next week.
The big remaining question is whether Congress can produce a bill that will win the approval of President Clinton, who said this week that he wants to sign a welfare bill before the August political conventions.
But House Republicans refused to give him the major changes he was seeking. And on Thursday, GOP lawmakers frustrated key Clinton administration officials by adding restrictions on food stamp benefits for low-income adults who don’t have children.
GOP House leaders on the bill were unapologetic, saying that 30 Democrats voted for the measure.
“We have come a long way and we have been reasonable,” said Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr., R-Fla., chairman of the House Human Services subcommittee. “And I hope the president would join us in an effort to rescue many Americans out of a corrupt welfare system.”
One basic change in policy already has gathered wide support. All current versions of the welfare legislation would relinquish the federal government’s 61-year-old guarantee to ensure minimum living standards for the poor.
The priority of the House welfare plan is to cut as much as $59 billion over the next six years from social spending. It would do so primarily by cutting food stamp costs and by denying nearly all social services to legal non-citizens, even if they work and pay taxes.
The bill allows a maximum, five-year lifetime limit on welfare, but lets states set a shorter limit. It also would require recipients to go work after two years or lose benefits.
Democrats are hoping that the Senate will moderate the bill by loosening some of the restrictions on who can receive benefits and softening some of the funding cuts.
Clinton’s spokesman, Mike McCurry, said the House bill is “still way short of what we need in order to be satisfied. … The president remains optimistic that when it comes to welfare reform, we are talking about signature, not veto.”