GOP governors rebuff Clinton on welfare reform


BURLINGTON, Vt. -- President Clinton tried yesterday to reclaim the momentum for welfare reform from the Republican-led Congress, but got a hostile reception from the nation's GOP governors.

Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole gave the governors the first peek at the welfare reform bill he and his fTC colleagues will take up later this week, declaring that it is his approach, not Mr. Clinton's, that will fulfill the president's 3-year-old promise to "end welfare as we know it."

In a speech to the National Governors' Association (NGA) summer meeting here, Mr. Clinton announced that his administration would approve within 30 days any welfare reform request that includes any of five specific reforms previously approved for individual states.

Democratic governors hailed the sudden break in red tape as instant welfare reform that could obviate the need for Congress to act.

"This is stunning," said Vermont Democrat Howard Dean, the NGA chairman. "It means we will have welfare reform this year whether Congress does it or not."

But Republican governors who now control the nation's state houses savaged the proposal, saying that it still requires states to ask approval from the federal government and does nothing to help balance the federal budget.

Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, chairman of the Republican Governors' Association, said the nation's 30 Republican chief executives unanimously supported the welfare reform bill being pushed by Mr. Dole.

The Dole bill is a compromise proposal developed over the past few weeks within the Republican caucus that the majority hopes his colleagues will pass within the next two weeks. It is similar to a measure approved last spring by the House, but provides much greater flexibility to the states to shape welfare programs as they like.

Mr. Dole's proposal would cap federal spending on welfare at fiscal year 1994 levels, provide additional money to about 18 high-growth states, and award the money in lump sums rather than based on individual caseload.

It would let each state set eligibility criteria, benefit levels and work requirements.

"I believe America's historical detour into bureaucracy and centralization is over," the Kansas Republican senator said.

This broad flexibility has already come under attack from Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, who is challenging Mr. Dole for the GOP presidential nomination, because it does not mandate that states deny benefits for children born to single mothers or to cut off welfare benefits to immigrants.

But the no-strings approach was a definite crowd pleaser with the GOP governors.

The president's proposal, by contrast, was greeted by many of the governors as too little, too late.

"It's a repeat of last year, which was a repeat of the year before that, which was a repeat of the year before that." grumbled Minnesota's Republican Gov. Arne H. Carlson.

George E. Pataki, the freshman Republican governor of New York, said governors are sick of having to beg for approval of such waivers. "I still think it is Big Brother in Washington looking over the shoulders of the states," he said.

Sensitive to such criticism but reluctant to give up all federal control, Mr. Clinton said his administration has already granted welfare reform waivers to 28 states -- more, he said, than were granted in the previous 12 years. He added four more states to the list yesterday and said Massachusetts would join them shortly.

He promised that any state that comes up with plans "that require people on welfare to work, that cut off benefits after a time certain for those who won't work, that make teen mothers stay at home and stay in school, that make parents pay child support or go to work to earn the money to do so, or that use welfare benefits as a wage supplement for private employers who give jobs to people on welfare" will be approved within 30 days.

Despite his pledge for speedy approval of state reform measures, Mr. Clinton said there remains a need for Congress to enact welfare reform.

Such a measure, he said, should set national standards for child support collections, time limits on receiving benefits and work requirements, and strengthen the requirement on states to provide welfare recipients with child care so they can go to work.

Meanwhile, the proposal Mr. Dole unveiled contained the magic element this year's crop of governors seems to want: no requirement for federal approval.

"There is no bureaucrat or group of bureaucrats that are ever going to work out a blanket program that works equally well for all 50 states, because America is too diverse to do that," Mr. Dole said.

Rather than distributing funds based on individual caseload, Mr. Dole would combine the money states now receive for Aid to Families with Dependent Children and related child care and job training programs into one consolidated payment, or block grant.

Governors also would be given the option of receiving federal food stamp payments for their states as a separate block grant.

Some 88 other federal job training and education programs also would be consolidated and their combined funds awarded to states as block grants, he said.

Mr. Dole described the shift as going from "paternalism to partnership," something he said the governors have been seeking for years.

Mr. Clinton, conciliatory to the man he may face in next year's presidential elections, called the Dole bill "a very positive opening step."

But he said that as a former governor he knew the pressures governors will face if saddled with other federal budget cuts. Then, he said, in the absence of federal requirements, they might abandon programs for the poor.

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