House Opens Debate on GOP Welfare Plan : Reform: Emotions run high on the floor as Republicans laud proposal and Democrats assail it. Panel allows amendments by opponents of abortion.


The House launched its floor debate on the GOP welfare reform legislation Tuesday, with Republicans proclaiming that it would end a cruel system that has entrapped the needy and Democrats attacking it for hurting poor children and failing to help their parents get jobs.

As the rhetoric sizzled in the House chamber, the Rules Committee met separately and agreed to allow members who oppose abortion to introduce some amendments that they had proposed to soften provisions in the GOP plan that they believe might encourage abortions--denying cash payments to unwed teen-age mothers and forbidding states to increase benefit payments when families on welfare have additional babies.

The House is expected to begin voting on amendments today and is scheduled to vote by the end of the week on the overall legislation, which would shift authority over much of the system to states, require families on welfare to work after two years, end cash benefits to any recipient who has received a total of five years of assistance and make legal immigrants ineligible for dozens of federal programs.


The emotional debate accentuated the sizable gap between the way politicians in the two parties view an issue that they both see as vital to the country’s future--reforming the existing welfare system. Both sides agree that welfare encourages dependency and is bad for both the taxpayers and beneficiaries.

“The Republican revolution is at hand,” said Rep. Bill Archer (R-Tex.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. “Today begins the demise of the failed welfare state that has entrapped the nation’s needy for far too long.”

It is time, he added, for “a new system that lifts a load from working, taxpaying Americans.”

But Democrats argued that the Republican plan, which is projected to save more than $66 billion over five years, would take money from needy families to pay for tax breaks for the rich.

“This is a cruel piece of legislation,” Rep. Sam Gibbons (D-Fla.) said. “It punishes the children--the innocent children because of the errors of their parents.”

In one particularly sharp exchange, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) compared the GOP proposal to conditions in Nazi Germany.


The comment prompted Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr. (R-Fla.), chairman of the Ways and Means subcommittee that drafted much of the package, to say that he was shocked by such a statement from a distinguished civil rights leader.

That remark, in turn, drew a response from Gibbons, who said: “Sometimes the truth hurts.”

In a letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), President Clinton heaped criticism on the Republican bill, saying that it “does not offer the kind of real welfare reform that Americans in both parties expect.”

He joined House Democrats in denouncing the GOP proposal as “very tough on children” because it would reduce spending on school meals, cut income support for hundreds of thousands of low-income and poor families with disabled children and pass responsibility for the foster care system to the states, capping the growth of federal funds for the program.

Republicans said that Democrats had no basis for criticizing the GOP plan since they had failed to reform the system during the first two years of the Clinton Administration, even though they controlled both houses of Congress and “ending welfare as we know it” was a Clinton campaign promise.

Provisions that could be amended under the Rules Committee decision are intended to stem teen-age pregnancies by denying cash to mothers under age 18.

The committee voted to allow amendments that would enable states to provide vouchers to pay for necessities for children, such as cribs and diapers for teen-age mothers and families on welfare that have more babies.


But the panel turned down a proposal to allow the House to consider a stronger amendment by Rep. Jim Bunn (R-Ore.) that would allow states to provide cash payments to the parent or guardian of a teen-age mother and child living with the adult.

In an interview before the decision, Bunn said that he would not vote for welfare reform unless it provided support for teen-age parents.

In all, the Rules Committee agreed to allow debate on 31 amendments, including one that would increase funds for child care by $160 million per year and another that would require states to create programs for revoking professional and driver’s licenses from parents who are delinquent in paying child support. That idea is strongly supported by the President.