- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

House Republican plans to push a welfare-reform bill to a floor vote this week without committee hearings or markups has sparked outcries from Democrats.
"With states facing their worst budget crises in 50 years and with unemployment rising, the House is going to vote on flawed welfare legislation without a single hearing and without any committee considering the bill," said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and ranking member of the House Ways and Means subcommittee that oversees welfare.
"The Republican leadership is using a terrible process to push the wrong policy at the worst possible time," Mr. Cardin said. "The last thing our states need now is a huge unfunded mandate from Washington."
"It is extremely irresponsible of Republicans to put the welfare bill on the House floor without the opportunity to hear from witnesses," said Rep. George Miller, California Democrat and ranking member on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
"The Republican bill provides a one-size-fits-all, Washington-knows-best approach to welfare that will require states to make fundamental changes to their welfare programs. Testimony from witnesses in the system would have allowed compromise and the opportunity to balance the legislation," Mr. Miller said.
On Tuesday, House Republican leaders, including conference Chairman Deborah Pryce of Ohio, introduced their party's welfare bill.
The next day, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said a vote on the bill could come this Thursday.
"We intend to use an unusual procedure to bring the bill straight to the floor," Mr. DeLay said.
Welfare programs are working under short-term extensions and it's "vitally important to get this program reauthorized" and sent to the Senate, he said.
The new bill is almost the same as the one that passed the House last year, which "had more than 20 hearings and multiple markups," Mr. DeLay said. "We feel that members have had plenty of opportunity to consider the bill" and "we want to expedite the process."
Rep. David Dreier, California Republican and chairman of the House Rules Committee, asked members to submit amendments to his committee by tomorrow evening.
Democratic leaders said they planned to offer a substitute version of welfare reform.
The landmark 1996 welfare-reform law expired Sept. 30. Earlier last year, House Republicans worked overtime to coordinate efforts of the six committees that write welfare law. The House welfare bill passed in May, mostly along party lines.
The Senate, however, did not pass a welfare bill and Congress ended up extending the anti-poverty programs through the end of March.
This history notwithstanding, many House Democrats "are not happy" with the welfare bill's "extreme fast track," one aide said.
"I've not seen a bill of this magnitude bypass everything and go straight to the floor," he said.
The welfare bill may be the same as last year, the aide added, "but everything else has changed you have states facing record budget shortfalls and higher unemployment. Many of our members think we should re-examine the proposal in light of those changes in the economy."

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