Welfare Advocates Doubt Clinton Means It at Least They Hope He'll Change His Mind on Wisconsin Plan

Article excerpt

QUESTION: ON WHAT ISSUE does Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole find surprising common ground with Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan, D-N.Y., and children's advocate Marian Wright Edelman?

Answer: That President Bill Clinton does not mean it when he says he has embraced Dole's call for ending welfare's 60-year status as a guaranteed federal entitlement.

Clinton insists that his commitment is real. He repeated it Thursday in Wisconsin, where he pledged to support the welfare revision plan that Dole outlined this week and that was introduced Wednesday in the House. "I will sign it," Clinton said. "My attitude is let's let 'er rip."

Republicans, who say they will believe it when they see it, announced a new television ad campaign Thursday that highlights what they call Clinton's shifting positions on welfare. The message is that "Welfare reform is something Bill Clinton loves to talk about but doesn't want to do anything about," said Haley Barbour, the GOP national chairman.

Bruce Reed, Clinton's top adviser on welfare, says there is no longer any significant disagreement on the issue between the White House and Republicans. The latest Republican proposal contains adequate funding for child care and health care, he said, and no longer contains the cuts in planned spending for programs like foster care and school lunches that led Clinton to veto two earlier GOP versions of welfare revision.

Reed said the White House was willing, in turn, to go along with GOP demands that many Democrats once considered unthinkable. Among them: giving states the option to cut off welfare payments to unmarried teen-age mothers who have more children while on welfare, mandatory time limits on benefits, strict work requirements and an end to the federal guarantee of aid for dependent children that has been part of federal law since the Social Security Act of 1935.

"When it comes to the real aspects of welfare reform, there isn't much difference between us," Reed said in a briefing. "We could work this out in an afternoon."

But this week some administration officials declared that the GOP's proposed cuts in children's programs remain too deep. Others said Clinton may yet balk at granting the waiver he appeared to promise Saturday for Wisconsin to implement a radical work-centered welfare plan. …