- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

Two House committees passed welfare-reform bills on party line votes yesterday, while two groups of senators held events to offer their views on the issue.

The welfare issue is expected to go before the full House of Representatives, possibly as early as May 15, now that the House Ways and Means Committee and House Education and the Workforce Committee have finished work on their bills.

Together, the House welfare bills retain much of the 1996 law including its primary $16.5 billion-a-year funding but they also set tougher work rules for welfare recipients, include money to promote marriage and responsible fatherhood, and offer states new latitude in bending federal rules to meet the needs of their welfare programs.

Democrats in both committees attempted to loosen the new work rules, reopen benefits to legal immigrants and sharply increase funding for child care.

The bill also requires states to undertake many actions, but does not provide the funding to do so, said Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat and ranking minority member of the Ways and Means panel. According to an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office, the cost of implementing the bill's new work rules will be $8 billion to $11 billion over five years, he said.

Republicans on the panel countered that the welfare caseload has fallen by more than half and states will have greater access to other funding streams for welfare-to-work and child care needs.

Rep. Bill Thomas, California Republican and Ways and Means chairman, added that before the welfare bill comes to a floor vote, he would ensure that an additional $2 billion over five years is included in a mandatory child care block grant program. That child care program one of several funding sources for child care is currently funded at $2.7 billion a year.

In the Senate, meanwhile, two events were held yesterday on welfare reform:

•Democratic Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, along with seven Democratic co-sponsors, outlined their "centrist" approach to welfare reform. Their bill has work rules similar to the House bills, but boosts child care funding to $8 billion. It also has measures to reduce teen pregnancy, require child support from parents, and promote responsible fatherhood and stable, two-parent families.

•Six senators, including three members of the pivotal Senate Finance Committee, released a "consensus" welfare-reform proposal that melds several Republican and Democratic approaches. This plan "proves we can agree across party lines," said Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, referring to Democratic Sens. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Republican Sens. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, and independent Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont.

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