Conservatives Push Plan Restricting Aid To Teens, Immigrants
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A dozen Senate conservatives are lining up behind a far-reaching plan to dismantle more than 150 anti-poverty programs and deny low-income women what presidential hopeful Phil Gramm calls ``more and more money to have more and more children on welfare.″
The plan, announced Thursday, adds to the pressure on Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., to overcome GOP wrangling on welfare and overhaul the nation’s public assistance programs, something most Americans strongly favor.
The conservatives’ blueprint would crack down on immigrants and unmarried teen-age mothers who get welfare, while giving states responsibility for a $100 billion array of cash, job training, housing, foster care, child care and nutrition programs.
``We are literally lifting thousands of strings that the federal government now imposes on welfare as it is constructed in our states,″ said Gramm, a Texan and one of Dole’s rivals for the GOP presidential nomination in 1996.
``This will unleash creativity in the states. It will give the states the ability to experiment,″ Gramm predicted Thursday as he announced the senators’ plan.
Gramm and other conservatives, most notably Sen. Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina, blocked Senate debate on welfare earlier this summer when they complained the GOP’s original bill did nothing to discourage teen-agers from having children out of wedlock.
The new version, Gramm said, would put an end to giving women ``more and more money to have more and more children on welfare.″
President Clinton and other Democrats have attacked the conservatives for holding welfare hostage to their ``extreme″ positions. On Thursday, Sen. John Breaux, D-La., said Gramm and Faircloth were bottling up welfare, ``hoping to add provisions that punish children for their parents’ actions _ all in the false hope of preventing illegitimacy.″
But a fight among lawmakers from the Sun Belt and the North and Midwest over the Finance Committee’s plan to divide welfare dollars among the states has also roiled the Senate and delayed any votes.
In addition, moderate Republicans are opposed to the conservative push to cut off cash payments to teen-age mothers and children born while their mothers are on welfare.
Dole, who voted for the Senate Finance Committee bill that started the GOP rift, has threatened to keep senators in session in August, delaying a recess, to pass welfare reform.
``It is not easy,″ Dole said this week. ``Everybody has a different view on welfare reform. We believe we made some progress and I hope if we can resolve some of the issues, we can start the process of drafting that legislation.″
Robert Rector, a welfare specialist with the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Dole must work ``really hard to re-establish his conservative credentials″ on welfare after allowing Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., the Finance Committee chairman, to write the GOP’s original bill.
``Dole’s entire campaign to present himself as a social conservative is now in jeopardy,″ Rector said.
Gerald Miller, director of the Michigan Department of Social Services, said the conservatives’ plan gives Republican governors what they have long been seeking from Washington: responsibility for numerous welfare programs with few strings attached.
``This is where the Republican governors have always been,″ said Miller, whose boss, Michigan Gov. John Engler, has been the GOP governors’ leading spokesman on welfare reform. ``It’s encouraging that another group of people has spoken out in strong support of the block grants.″
The House passed its welfare reform plan in March.
The House bill is HR4; the Senate bill also is HR4; legislative language for the conservative plan is not yet written.