- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2002

Objections to language in the welfare-reform bill on the new "superwaiver" proposal, combined with partisan haggling over the rules for debate, delayed a House vote on the issue until today.

House Republicans had planned to pass the proposal yesterday but changed their minds last night and settled on merely passing a rule for debate.

Rep. David Dreier, California Republican and chairman of the House Rules Committee, said on the floor last night that the party leadership wanted to give lawmakers more time to examine the compromises reached earlier in the day.

Republicans passed a rule for debate that bars votes on any individual issue and requires members to vote up or down on the parties' competing proposals. Those votes today are expected to follow party lines closely.

Negotiations on rules and the details on the "superwaiver" had already delayed the expected vote past midnight. The possibility of a further barrage of Democratic procedural objections during the debate threatened to push the vote into the early morning hours.

A Rules Committee member, Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat, said the process "was the most stunning display of incompetence" she could remember.

Republicans had earlier dismissed the Democratic complaints about the details of the bill as old news.

"They're making the same dire predictions for this bill that they made in '95 and '96," said Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican. "The Democrats quite frankly simply have no ground on which to stand, other than to applaud the success of welfare reform, which they refuse to do."

The welfare-reform bill reauthorizes the 1996 law that created the $16.5 billion Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

The law also includes major child-care subsidy programs, child-support enforcement, child welfare and the abstinence-education grant program.

The Republican and Democratic bills differ on work rules, child-care funding and definitions of work. The Democratic bill also proposes reopening the TANF program to legal immigrants, a move that Republicans oppose.

The superwaiver is a Bush administration-inspired innovation that will give states unprecedented opportunities to modify rules in many federal programs.

Under the superwaiver or "State Flex" provision, a state could make a single application to waive rules of federal education, housing, labor, nutrition and social-service programs.

Now, states have to go through a laborious process with each federal agency to change any rules.

President Bush, who has highlighted welfare-to-work success stories in recent speeches and appearances across the country, joined House Republicans to promote his agenda, including the welfare plan.

"This is a bill about opportunities for Americans, especially American women," said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, before joining Mr. Bush in the closed-door session yesterday morning.

The fight yesterday over the superwaiver focused on the extent to which governors could change programs.

Members of the House Appropriations Committee wanted to make sure that states could not waive restrictions or limitations that the panel members had placed on funding. They also wanted to make sure states could not transfer appropriated funds to other accounts.

Much of the day was spent hashing out acceptable language, and the superwaiver was retained in the Republican bill, but it "doesn't have the same broad authority" that Republicans wanted to give to governors, said one House aide.

Republican governors, meanwhile, sent a letter to House leaders yesterday praising the Republican welfare plan, including the superwaiver provision.

The law, which expires Sept. 30, includes the nation's major cash welfare program and its largest child-care subsidy programs. It also has sections on child-support enforcement, child welfare and abstinence education.

House Republicans primarily want a 40-hour-a-week commitment including three days a week of actual work from welfare recipients, in exchange for their benefits. This is an increase over the 30-hour-a-week commitment.

The Democrat-controlled Senate is not expected to take up welfare reform until later this year.

The Democratic alternative bill in the House would create more flexibility in the work week and more generous educational provisions.

It would restore legal immigrants' eligibility for welfare, abolished in 1996, and add $11.5 billion for child care during five years. Republicans would add $400 million a year above Mr. Bush's initial budget request of $4.8 billion a year.

"The amount of child-care money they've added doesn't pass the laugh test," said Rep. George Miller, California Democrat.


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