House Nears Vote on Welfare Reform Bill : Congress: GOP returns some child care funds, adopts tough stand on deadbeat parents. Approval along party lines is expected today.


The House, preparing for final approval of the Republican welfare reform plan, voted Thursday to restore a measure of funding for child care and to require states to revoke driver’s and professional licenses of parents who fail to pay child support.

With those amendments in place, the sweeping legislation, estimated to save the government $66 billion over five years, is expected to be approved today in a vote largely along party lines.

The plan would transfer broad authority over the welfare system to the states, make most legal immigrants ineligible for nearly all federal aid, require welfare recipients to work after two consecutive years on the rolls and end aid permanently after five years of assistance for a recipient.


After approving the series of amendments Thursday, the Republican-dominated House voted along party lines, 228 to 205, to reject the chief Democratic alternative to their proposal. That plan, which resembled the welfare reform proposal introduced by President Clinton last year, would have required welfare recipients to work after two years and cut them off after four years, but it would have preserved more of the existing safety net for the poor than the GOP bill.

Republicans made it clear that they were voting not only to scuttle the Democratic alternative, authored by Rep. Nathan Deal of Georgia, but also to scrap the President’s vision for welfare reform.

“It’s really the Clinton-Deal phony deal,” said Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Tex.).

Republicans criticized the Democratic bill as too expensive and too much like the current welfare system, which both sides say encourages dependence.


“It punishes the taxpayer and it maintains the failed welfare status quo,” said Rep. Bill Archer (R-Tex.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Democrats defended the measure however, saying that it would provide the assistance that welfare recipients need to become self-sufficient, while the GOP bill would do little but cut them off.

The Deal bill would have provided 1 1/2 times the funding for child care as the GOP bill and would have required states to establish individual plans to help recipients move off federal assistance. It also would have retained federal authority over much of the welfare system and continued its entitlement status--meaning that benefits would go to every family that qualifies. The GOP plan has no such guarantee.


After the vote, Deal said that he expects the Senate to modify the GOP plan that the House is expected to pass today.

“Whatever comes back from the Senate will probably be very close” to the Democratic version, he said. Indeed, leading Republican senators have indicated that they will push to soften elements of the House plan.

Thursday’s floor action, like the previous two days of debate, was packed with emotion.

Rep. Carrie Meek (D-Fla.), in a particularly passionate speech, accused Republicans of legislating in ignorance. “You wouldn’t know a welfare mother if you saw one,” she said.

But after three days of being accused of being heartless, Republicans were tired of turning the other cheek.

Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.) said the Democratic position was that, “if you’re not for huge bureaucracy, you’re against children. That’s garbage.”

A rare harmonious moment came when members of both parties embraced an amendment that would require states to implement programs for suspending driver’s and all forms of professional licenses of parents who are delinquent in paying child support.


“Democrats and Republicans alike do not like deadbeat dads,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) said before the House voted, 426 to 5, to adopt the change.

The President, who has strongly endorsed the idea, said it sends a clear signal: “No parent in America has a right to walk away from the responsibility to raise (his or her) children.”


House members from Orange County said the amended bill in total would send an important moral message to recipients.

“Welfare has been the biggest and most costly policy failure of our time,” said Rep. Ron Packard (R-Oceanside). “We reward people under the current system for doing the socially wrong thing, for being promiscuous, for having children out of wedlock. We give them a bigger check for it. (This bill) makes a huge change in that.”

Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) called the measure “compassionate” yet “tough-love” reform.

“Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the President and liberal Democrats have muddied the debate in defense of a failed system that has spent over $5 trillion to create a legacy of government dependency, perpetual poverty and hopelessness,” Dornan said.


The House voted unanimously to approve another amendment that would help ensure collection of child support by allowing states to place liens against private property owned by deadbeat fathers and mothers.

Perhaps the most substantive amendment, offered by Rep. Nancy L. Johnson (R-Conn.), would add $150 million per year for child care. Even with that addition, however, Democrats argued that federal funding for child care would still be slightly lower than under current law--at a time when demand for child care is expected to explode as tens of thousands of parents on welfare are forced to take jobs.

“She makes a very badly flawed bill a little better,” Rep. Charles W. Stenholm (D-Tex.) said.

In an interview, Johnson said she hopes that the Senate, when it takes up welfare reform later this year, will guarantee child care to every welfare recipient who goes to work.

The House also adopted a Republican-backed amendment that would take some sting out of provisions of the bill that deny most federal benefits to most legal immigrants. Under the amendment, offered by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), legal immigrants would continue to be eligible for benefits if they have physical or mental impairments that make it impossible for them to take a test to become naturalized citizens.

Ros-Lehtinen and fellow south Florida Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart, both immigrants from Cuba, still planned to vote against the full GOP bill because they believe it unfairly discriminates against immigrants by making them ineligible for federal programs.