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Clinton Backs Away from Support For Republican Welfare Reforms

By Jack Nelson
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

President Clinton, increasingly concerned that Republican welfare reforms would hurt children, is backing away from his earlier indications of support for a Senate version of welfare legislation, a Clinton campaign official confirmed Monday.

Clinton's view now on the Senate bill is "let's take a second look at what it's going to mean to children," according to Ann Lewis, deputy director of "Clinton-Gore '96," the president's re-election campaign.

And a senior White House aide, who declined to be identified, said, "The president is mightily concerned with the cumulative impact of the Senate welfare bill in combination with all of the other cuts the Republicans are pushing -- Medicaid, earned income tax credits, cuts in education."

A congressional conference committee is trying to devise a compromise between the tough Senate welfare bill and an even more stringent House measure. Clinton has criticized the House bill as being too harsh. But he has said that despite some reservations, he could sign the Senate version, which Democrats supported by 35 to 11.

Lewis said Clinton's concerns were articulated in an open letter to him from Marian Wright Edelman, a close friend of Clinton and his wife Hillary and, as president of the Children's Defense Fund, a leading advocate for children. The first lady, a long-time children's advocate, is a former chairman of the Fund.

The letter, published Saturday in The Washington Post, called the Senate and House bills "fatally flawed, callous, anti-child assaults." She urged Clinton to show "unwavering moral leadership for children and opposition to Senate and House welfare and Medicaid block grants, which will make more children poor and sick."

Sources said the letter dismayed some Clinton political advisers, who have counted on the president to sign welfare reform legislation. Doing so who enable him to argue during his re-election campaign that he had fulfilled a 1992 campaign pledge to "end welfare as we know it."

The president's dilemma on welfare reform has been a topic of heated debate within the administration for some time, especially since Oct. 27 -- when the Los Angeles Times disclosed that a "draft" report prepared by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimated that the Senate bill would push an estimated 1.1 million children into poverty and worsen conditions for those already under the poverty line.

The Senate bill would end the federal guarantee of cash assistance to poor mothers with children, give states block grants to create their own programs, freeze federal welfare spending for five years, require recipients to work after two years, and limit assistance to five years in a lifetime.