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Clinton Finds Fault With Own Welfare Plan

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In an apparent repudiation of one of his Administration’s central legislative efforts, President Clinton has said that he did not like his own proposal for reforming welfare.

In a telephone conversation last week with syndicated columnist Ben Wattenberg, Clinton said he thought his plan was not tough enough. The plan was introduced last year but abandoned after Republicans won control of Congress in November.

Asked about the statement, a White House spokesman did not dispute it, although he did take issue with other elements of Wattenberg’s column, which is scheduled to be published today.

The remark comes two weeks after the President told a group of mostly wealthy contributors in Houston that he thinks he raised taxes “too much” in 1993. Clinton later said that he misspoke and was “proud” of the tax hikes.

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His comments about welfare reform were part of an almost hourlong conversation last Thursday that he initiated with Wattenberg about the conservative Democrat’s new book on values.

The book criticizes Clinton for campaigning on the new Democrats’ values, such as “personal responsibility” and “no more something for nothing,” but reverting into a liberal Democrat once he took office.

In his column, Wattenberg quotes Clinton as admitting that he was so intent on improving the economy that he “changed philosophically and missed the boat” by losing the language that distinguished him as a new Democrat.

White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry told reporters that the President disputes that he said he had changed philosophically.

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Specifically concerning welfare reform, Wattenberg said he told Clinton he had “not been pleased” with the Administration’s plan. The President agreed, “saying: ‘I wasn’t pleased with it either.’ ”

Clinton “had been thinking through this stuff pretty carefully and he’s a great reader and this had resonated with him,” said Wattenberg, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

McCurry said the exchanges on welfare and another Clinton initiative, Goals 2000 education reform, “were very nuanced discussions of policy in which the President was making a much larger set of arguments, and they’ve been truncated” in Wattenberg’s column.

He conceded, however, that the President said he had wanted a welfare reform plan that was tougher on requiring work but felt that, due to economic constraints, he could not provide the money for child care that would be necessary to make sure children of parents who were forced to go to work would have “proper care.”

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