President Bill Clinton denounced the House Republican welfare revision bill Tuesday and challenged Congress to negotiate a bipartisan compromise on the issue by July 4.
"The bill that passed the House of Representatives . . . is too weak on work and too tough on children," Clinton said as he tried to regain the political initiative while Congress is on vacation.
"It's wrong to cut children off just because their mothers are minors. After all, a child is a child. . . . Surely we should not punish children for the mistakes of their parents."
In a a prime-time news conference shunned by two of the three major television broadcast networks, the president also said he was "going to the mat" for his surgeon general nominee, Dr. Henry Foster Jr.
Clinton challenged Congress to complete work on welfare reform by July 4, so the nation could celebrate Independence Day by giving people on welfare "the opportunity, the responsibility, to move to independence." Welfare reform, he said, is "an example of where all the people ought to be able to get together in the Congress."
"I am willing to work with Republicans. The question is, are they willing to work with me," Clinton said.
It was Clinton's first prime-time news conference since Republicans seized control of Congress and only the fourth of his presidency. Still, it was greeted with little enthusiasm by the networks.
Of the three big networks, it was carried live only by CBS, which also provided live coverage of House Speaker Newt Gingrich's address to the nation earlier this month. Clinton's news conference also was carried live by cable networks CNN and C-SPAN.
The president shrugged off the lack of interest by the networks.
"The Constitution gives me relevance, the power of my ideas gives me relevance. . . . The president is relevant here, especially an activist president," he said.
Clinton opened his 36-minute news conference with a 7-minute summary of what has become his stock stump speech, highlighting the need for Congress to put aside partisanship and do what is right for the country.
He announced he was granting Montana and Missouri waivers from federal rules to give them more flexibility in adopting welfare programs of their own. That brings to 27 the number of states with such waivers.
The House welfare bill, passed last month, would deny cash benefits to unwed mothers younger than 18 and prohibit states from increasing benefits for mothers who have more babies.
Instead, Clinton said he wanted a welfare bill like the one he proposed last year, which would increase federal funding for welfare recipients' job training. Clinton's measure would require people to return to work within two years to keep receiving welfare benefits and …