WASHINGTON -- As he had promised, President Clinton last night vetoed a sweeping Republican plan to overhaul the nation's welfare programs and end the federal guarantee of aid to the poor.
The veto was politically risky for Mr. Clinton, since the Republican initiative has broad public support and the president ran for election on a pledge to "end welfare as we know it."
But Mr. Clinton argued that the Republican blueprint would be too harsh on children because it would, among other things, cut money for disabled children and provide too little aid for child care for parents who get off welfare and take jobs.
The House and Senate passed the bill the week before Christmas, but by margins less than the two-thirds majorities needed to override Mr. Clinton's veto.
"The Congress should not use the words 'welfare reform' as a cover to violate the nation's values," Mr. Clinton said last night. "We must demand responsibility from young mothers and young fathers, not penalize children for their parents' mistakes."
After the veto, Republicans criticized Mr. Clinton and asked him to produce his own detailed welfare reform plan.
"By vetoing welfare reform, the president has demonstrated what he is against," said Rep. Bill Archer of Texas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. "Now he must demonstrate what he is for."
The president said he was determined to work with Congress to reform welfare as part of his budget negotiations with the Republican leaders of Congress. For their part, the Republicans expressed a willingness to negotiate, so the prospects for overhauling the system are far from dead.
"If he thinks he's going to get a Democratic bill out of a Republican Congress, he's not looking at it realistically," said Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr. of Florida, the chief architect of the Republican welfare plan. "We're willing to negotiate and compromise. But if he wants to deliver on his campaign promise of welfare reform, he's going to have to deal with the Republican Congress."
The president is willing to accept the basic structure of the Republican welfare proposal, which would transfer control over cash welfare to the states and provide them with lump-sum "block grants" to help pay for their programs, according to White House officials. The Republican plan would also set the first-ever time limit for cash benefits at five years in a lifetime and require parents to work after two years on the dole.
But officials said Mr. Clinton would not sign a bill that reduces projected spending on aid for abused and disabled children, as the Republican plan would.
Mr. Clinton also insists on providing more funding for child care for welfare mothers who go to work under the states' new programs. And the president wants to continue to guarantee Medicaid health care coverage for all children on welfare and their parents. The Republican welfare plan would end that guarantee.