Ending weeks of stalemated negotiations, key Senate and House members reached agreement Monday on a compromise that virtually assures passage of a major welfare bill before Congress adjourns.
Democratic vice presidential nominee Lloyd Bentsen, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, took a day off from campaigning to participate in the closed-door talks that produced the breakthrough.
Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Bentsen, joined by ranking Republicans from their committees and a representative of the White House, ironed out differences that had deadlocked a Senate-House conference over different versions of welfare legislation.
In addition, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), chairman of a House Energy and Commerce Committee panel involved in Medicaid aspects of the bill, was called to the meeting and signed off on the compromise plan.
If a majority of other members of the conference go along with the proposal, as expected, it would have bipartisan approval and White House blessing before it is considered by the Senate and House in the closing days of the session.
The compromise measure, largely following the approach of the Senate-passed bill, would depart from previous welfare legislation by placing major emphasis on preparing welfare recipients for jobs and providing transitional medical and child care benefits to ease their movement from welfare rolls to the work force.
It contrasted with the more traditional approach of the House, which approved a multibillion-dollar increase in benefits along with other provisions to encourage greater family responsibility.
Under the compromise, benefit payments would not be raised but $3.34 billion would be allocated over the next five years for education, training and transitional benefits in hopes of spurring young, single mothers to get jobs and support their families. In addition, absentee fathers of children on welfare rolls would have child support payments deducted from their paychecks.
Work 16 Hours
The tentative agreement includes a requirement that at least one person in two-parent families on welfare work at least 16 hours a week in return for benefits. This "workfare" provision was demanded by President Reagan to avert his veto.
Senate sources said that eight issues were resolved Monday afternoon by Bentsen, Rostenkowski, Waxman, Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore), Rep. Bill Archer (R-Tex.), Rep. Thomas J. Downey (D-N.Y.) and others with the agreement of Joe Wright, a top official of the White House Office of Management and Budget who has participated in the drafting of the welfare legislation.
The negotiators, recognizing that it will take states administering the welfare program time to adjust to the new system, set gradually rising target levels for recipient participation. In 1990, 7% of the recipients would have to be participating in the job program for a state to remain in compliance. That level would rise to 20% in 1995, Senate sources said. Under a special program for two jobless parents receiving benefits, the participation rates would begin at 40% in 1994 and rise to 75% by 1997.
Balked at 'Workfare'
House members--including House Labor Committee Chairman Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Los Angeles)--had balked at the "workfare" and compulsory participation in the jobs program but those at the meeting went along. Hawkins was not invited because he indicated he would not change his position, a Senate source said.
The compromise also provides a year of Medicaid coverage and a year of child care payments for former welfare recipients during their first year of work, a provision designed to assure mothers that their children would not lose medical care or be left unsupervised in the transition from welfare rolls to the job force.
In addition, the agreement provides that all states must pay at least six months of benefits each year to unemployed two-parent families. The law now makes these payments optional and only about half the states make such payments.
Other parts of the compromise proposal said states may require a welfare mother under 18 to live with her parents or in a "supervised environment" to continue receiving benefits.
"They got into a room together and hammered it out and the White House signed off on it," said a Senate aide who attended the meeting where the compromise was developed.
Bentsen met with the Senate conferees before the session with Rostenkowski and their agreement is expected soon.