White House Report Assails Welfare Plan : Congress: Study says Senate bill would push 1.2 million more children into poverty. Clinton may still sign measure, officials indicate.
The White House on Thursday issued a report warning that the Senate welfare reform plan would push 1.2 million more children into poverty, although Clinton Administration and congressional officials indicated the President may yet sign that legislation or a similar version.
White House officials immediately used the report to try to pressure Congress into moderating its welfare reform legislation, which is nearing final form in a House-Senate conference committee working to forge a compromise between the bills passed in each chamber.
But Republicans and Democrats close to those negotiations, which are likely to be completed today, said the White House’s arguments will not be considered.
The White House released its report after congressional Democrats requested information on the impact of the Senate welfare reform measure and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) accused the White House of concealing an earlier assessment, reported in The Times two weeks ago.
The President has said he would veto the House version of welfare reform, which the White House study predicted would push 2.1 million more children into poverty. But he has indicated willingness to accept the Senate version.
Despite the estimates in the report, Clinton issued no veto threat Thursday. His silence brought expressions of disappointment from religious leaders and advocates for poor children, two groups who have urged him to veto any welfare measure that does not retain the federal guarantee of cash assistance to all poor children.
Both the House and Senate measures would cancel that guarantee, which dates back 60 years. The bill also would transfer authority over welfare programs to the states and give them lump-sum block grants to pay for benefits and programs to help poor parents get jobs.
“I don’t understand how the President and the senators who voted for it can continue to support it now that they know it will push 1.2 million more children into poverty,” said Marian Wright Edelman, a longtime friend of Clinton’s and head of the Children’s Defense Fund, an organization devoted to helping children. “It taints [Clinton’s] very long record of moral leadership and protection of children.”
Dueling press conferences on the report were held in the Capitol by Senate Democrats who voted for the welfare plan and others who voted against it.
Moynihan said the report gives the President “no alternative but to veto” GOP-style welfare reform.
“Through 11 presidents and 31 congresses, we have sought to aid children in poverty,” Moynihan said. “Clearly, the Administration cannot sign any legislation that might emerge from the bartering of the lives of babes.”
But Sens. John B. Breaux (D-La.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), who had joined a majority of Senate Democrats in voting for the welfare overhaul, stressed that children are also hurt by the current welfare system.
“Instead of using the report as a reason to push the President to veto welfare reform,” Lieberman said, it should be “a basis for improving the reform bill that came out of the Senate.”
Breaux added that even if the measure that reaches Clinton’s desk includes none of the changes suggested by the White House, he would “strongly urge” the President to sign it.
Office of Management and Budget Director Alice Rivlin said the report shows that there is a “need to improve the [Senate] bill to make sure we are not reforming welfare or balancing the budget on the backs of children.”
In the report, the White House makes recommendations for altering the welfare reform plan, including providing more money for child care for welfare recipients, providing vouchers for benefits for families kicked off welfare and increasing the minimum wage.
Edelman and other advocates for poor children said that even if all of the White House’s recommendations were embraced by Congress, the resulting welfare reform package would still be harmful.
“This is not encouraging for those of us who were hoping that the President would be a tough negotiator on the behalf of poor children,” said Sharon Daly, deputy for social policy of Catholic Charities USA.
Daly stressed that the Senate welfare reform plan would not only push new children into poverty but would also make more destitute those living under the poverty line. In 1994, the poverty line for a family of four was about $15,000.
Charts attached to the report show that the poverty gap--the amount of money needed to lift all children above poverty--will increase from $16.2 billion to $20.5 billion under the Senate bill.