Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen said Wednesday that he does not expect the Clinton Administration's welfare reform initiative to be enacted by Congress this year.
Instead, he said, the President plans to make health care reform the central focus of his legislative agenda for the remainder of 1994.
Bentsen said that welfare reform faces a squeeze as a result of several factors: the Administration's legislative agenda is too crowded, Congress is in the midst of an election year and the White House is having trouble finding ways to pay for all of its costly new initiatives.
"I'd be surprised if we could do welfare reform this year--pleasantly surprised," Bentsen said in an interview. "We can't get everything done this year."
In his State of the Union Address, President Clinton urged Congress to move quickly to pass a plan to "end welfare as we know it."
But the Administration's inability to find adequate sources of funding for a broad welfare reform plan has forced the White House to scale back sharply the scope of its reform proposal, and also has led to repeated delays in the official unveiling of the Clinton plan over the last few months.
As a result, as the White House has moved full-speed ahead on health care reform, it has become increasingly evident to welfare reform advocates that they may have to wait while Congress deals with health care.
The White House has tried for some time to deflect criticism over the delays on welfare reform. In his State of the Union message, Clinton said: "I know it will be difficult to tackle welfare reform in 1994 at the same time we tackle health care but, let me point out, I think it is inevitable and imperative."
But Bentsen's comments seemed to confirm the fear that welfare reform will be the loser this year on the Clinton agenda.