WASHINGTON -- President Clinton, reinserting himself into the welfare debate, said yesterday that Republican reform plans were still too tough on innocent children and too soft on nonworking recipients and nonpaying parents.
While praising Republicans for incorporating many of his suggestions in plans to toughen child-support enforcement, the president criticized their reluctance to revoke the professional and drivers' licenses of those with overdue child support.
"We've got to send a loud signal: No parent in America has a right to walk away from the responsibility to raise their children," Mr. Clinton said in a speech before the National Association of Counties.
The president -- in his first public comments about specifics of the GOP plan to be debated on the House floor this month -- said that provisions such as cutting off cash benefits to teen-age mothers and their children were aimed at reducing costs, not reducing the problem.
"I don't think we should let budget cutting be wrapped in a cloak of welfare reform," Mr. Clinton said.
"Let's reform welfare. Let's cut the deficit. But let's don't mix up the two and pretend that one is the other."
The 51-minute speech, which also summarized two years of his administration's achievements, served notice that Mr. Clinton -- and the Democrats -- still have a role in a debate the president revived when he vowed during the campaign "to end welfare as we know it."
House Republicans maintain that reform efforts have now bypassed the Democrats, who they say are holding on to failed anti-poverty strategies.
Rep. Bill Archer of Texas, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which is working on the welfare bill, said the GOP proposal reinforces values, encourages responsibility and saves the taxpayers' money.
The president's own welfare plan languished last year while he tried to push health care reform. This year, House Republicans have led the emotional and speedy debate.
Mr. Clinton said the Republican plan allowed states to count people as "working" if they get off welfare for other reasons such as marriage or relocation. That's not true reform, he said.
"It may feel good for a year or two, but five years from now we'll be hitting ourselves upside the heads, saying, 'Why have we got a bigger welfare problem than we had five years ago?' "
Mr. Clinton's speech could help push a welfare plan offered last week by frustrated Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee.
That plan requires able-bodied recipients to go to work or get training as soon as they get on welfare.
It also proposes exempting states from asking for federal waivers to launch various experiments, including capping the amount of benefits a family could receive.