- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

Forty-seven witnesses yesterday weighed in on welfare-reform proposals in the largest hearing on the subject held by a congressional committee.
The witnesses were responding to welfare-reform bills introduced by House Republicans this week, which include many reforms proposed by the Bush administration earlier this year.
The House Ways and Means subcommittee on human resources, which held the hearing yesterday, plans to begin its committee revisions to its bill next week.
The testimony yesterday produced a galaxy of opinions and a mountain of papers on topics such work rules, child care funding, child support enforcement, abstinence education, foster care, food stamps, fatherhood and marriage proposals.
There was often vigorous disagreement.
For instance, Wendell Primus of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said that requiring welfare recipients to meet a 40-hour work/activity week in exchange for their benefits was overly ambitious and an unfunded mandate. He and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and ranking minority member of the subcommittee, each cited a new Center for Law and Social Policy study that says the proposed work rules could cost states $15 billion.
The new work rules "do not require extra government funds," countered Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation. "Identical arguments were raised against the 1996 welfare reform law. They were wrong then and they are wrong now," he said.
The bill's new "superwaiver," which would give governors the right to ask multiple federal agencies to relax some of their rules regarding welfare programs, also attracted criticism.
Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat, said the superwaivers could allow states to create a "substandard work force" by disregarding worker protections. The superwaiver would also "change the appropriation authority of Congress" by allowing unelected Cabinet secretaries to make changes that Congress should make, Mr. Primus said.
The superwaiver has been touted as one of the best parts of the proposed welfare reform by Republicans, including Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, who led the hearing.
Mr. Thompson told the panel that he believed a bipartisan bill can be crafted and that recent objections to the bill from governors aren't deeply rooted. "After talking to them behind closed doors," said Mr. Thompson, a former governor, it is clear that "they will be very satisfied if this bill passes."
Mr. Thompson had to leave after 30 minutes, causing dismay to some Democrats on the panel who did not get to question him.
Rep. Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat, also registered a complaint about the 3 p.m. hearing: "It's a mistake" to hold such a large welfare hearing on a Thursday afternoon, after the House is adjourned and members are leaving for constituent obligations, he said.
A committee aide said that the nearly four dozen witnesses were invited because they wanted to speak on welfare "and we didn't want to turn anyone down." The 3 p.m. Thursday slot was determined by House scheduling issues.
The hearing yesterday was the biggest welfare hearing in Congress, according to the Congressional Research Service, the aide added.

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