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Republicans Win First Round in Battle over Welfare Round

By Elizabeth Shogren
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

Congressional Republicans proved their cohesion Monday in the first round of action on the sweeping GOP welfare reform proposal as members of a House subcommittee voted down Democratic attempts to require more recipients to find jobs and to force states to provide them with child care and training or education.

The lively and at times acrimonious debate illuminated deep ideological differences between the two parties.

With several of their amendments, Democrats attempted to write into the measure guarantees for welfare recipients and their children. One would have ensured child care benefits. Another specified that states owed recipients job training or education.

The GOP proposal, unveiled last week, would give states broad leeway, allowing them to create their own programs to reform their own welfare systems as long as they abided by certain prohibitions. Welfare funds would no longer be determined based on the number of qualified recipients, but would be frozen at 1994 funding levels - $15.3 billion.

For the first time, the Clinton administration Monday suggested that the GOP plan would not meet the president's declared intention to "end welfare as we know it."

"It does nothing to move people from welfare to work, and it does not require everyone who can work go to work," Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala said in a detailed letter to Rep. Clay Shaw (RFla.), chairman of the Ways and Means human resources subcommittee, which is drafting the legislation.

Shalala called the work requirements in the GOP plan "even weaker than in those in current law." Despite her strong objections, the letter does not mention the possibility of a presidential veto.

The Republican plan stipulates that 20 percent of welfare recipients must be in work programs by 2003 and that states cut off cash benefits to families after they have been on the rolls five years.

Shalala's letter went on to criticize a provision of the GOP plan that would require states to deny cash benefits to unwed mothers under 18 and to their children. Some Republicans were also concerned that the provision is too harsh.

Currently about half of the 5 million families receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the main cash welfare program for families, have been receiving benefits for five years or more.