WELFARE REFORM has become so irresistible a movement that three of the four Maryland Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have voted for immediate implementation of the widely heralded plan put forth by Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, the welfare whiz rumored as a Bob Dole running mate.
Those voting in defiance of the White House last week were Ben Cardin, Steny Hoyer and Albert Wynn. The only administration loyalist was Baltimore's new representative, Elijah Cummings. Something is obviously going on here. On the last day of the Maryland General Assembly, the overwhelming Democratic majority in Annapolis approved a welfare reform bill only marginally kinder and gentler than the Thompson initiative.
Both programs put the emphasis on moving people from welfare to work. Both emphasize child care and job creation as positive incentives to cut down the welfare rolls. If there is one major difference, it is that Governor Thompson would put limits on the number of years allotted for the transition and Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening would not.
President Clinton promised to change "welfare as we know it" during his 1992 campaign. He subsequently vetoed two Republican reform measures, which undoubtedly were too harsh in getting rid of an entitlement for the poor without providing a safety net for children.
Last winter, when the nation's governors under Mr. Thompson's leadership endorsed welfare reform, White House warning flags went up. And when Senator Dole was set to go to Wisconsin last month to tout reform, Mr. Clinton launched a preemptive strike, praising the Thompson plan as "what welfare should look like." Only later did the White House say Mr. Thompson's request for waivers from federal requirements "will have to be negotiated." Republicans cried foul and drafted the legislation approved by BTC Messrs. Cardin, Hoyer and Wynn to give Wisconsin the green light.
One does not have to agree to every asterisk in the Thompson plan to see the wisdom in giving innovative governors a chance to overhaul a federal welfare system that is widely seen as a socially devastating failure that nurtured multi-generational dependency among America's poor. Let a consensus emerge.
Pub Date: 6/11/96