President Clinton's veto of the Republican welfare reform bill stops that particular overhaul of the flawed Aid to Families With Dependent Children program. But the months of bipartisan debate produced plenty of common ground on which to build a compromise that puts poor parents to work without stranding their children.
The White House should put a new proposal on the table as soon as the budget impasse is resolved.
Clinton was right to veto the overhaul, which passed Congress the week before Christmas, because it was too tough on children. Particularly troubling was the lack of adequate funding for child care for welfare recipients who go to work.
The White House also objected, with justification, to deep cuts in other benefits, including health care for disabled children and slashes in funds for investigating child abuse and protecting abused children. Clinton also rightly insisted on keeping the earned-income tax credit for the working poor.
New negotiations ought to resolve some hurdles. Republicans and Democrats both want to save money on welfare costs, reduce dependency, require work, discourage out-of-wedlock births, encourage personal responsibility and toughen requirements for child support. There is plenty of common ground.
There is also plenty of motivation to get this job done before the November election. Clinton surely wants to make good on his old campaign promise to end welfare "as we know it" before he faces the voters again. His political advisors also realize that his veto could cost him with voters who are weary of the status-quo welfare system.
Senate Majority Bob Dole (R-Kan.), front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, would also benefit if solid welfare reform becomes a reality. A deal would deprive his more conservative rivals for the nomination of a red-meat issue.
Dole deserves credit for his leadership when the House Republican welfare reform bill reached the Senate. Despite the political risk, he personally took a position that resulted in Senate changes in the harsher House bill and restored some protection for children who cannot be expected to fend for themselves.
Welfare reform cannot be avoided. Mothers who work outside of the home, once the exception, are now the rule. Few women can afford to be stay-at-home parents. Welfare recipients can no longer count on that option at taxpayers' expense. They, too, must go to work.
Clinton, Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich all want welfare reform for their own political reasons. Conventional wisdom might suggest that the last chance for welfare reform has slipped away, but that's wrong. There's still a reasonable chance reform can still be pushed through. It's up to Clinton to get the ball rolling.