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News Briefs I

Citing Budget Concerns, Lott Denies Pleas to Reopen Welfare Overhaul

The Washington Post

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) Tuesday ruled out reopening the 1996 welfare-overhaul bill to satisfy Republican as well as Democratic governors who are complaining that the law will cut off federal support for benefits to immigrants who are not U.S. citizens.

Lott told reporters he is setting up a task force to explore ways of helping the governors "short of reopening welfare reform" but held out little hope that Washington would come to their financial rescue.

States are saving money under the welfare bill and many of them are "running surpluses and putting away funds for a rainy day," Lott said. But Washington does not "have that luxury," he added. So "we think maybe they should look at some of their rainy-day funds and some of their surpluses because we don't have one. We have a great big national debt and an annual deficit that we're trying to address."

The legislation gave states flexibility to handle their own welfare problems, as the governors wanted, Lott noted. "And for them to come back and say, you know, Give us another $14 billion,' I'm not impressed with that," he added.

Asked if he had anything specific in mind to help the governors without reopening the welfare bill, Lott smiled and said, "Mmm, maybe." Lott's comments came in reaction to appeals last week from several GOP governors, including George E. Pataki of New York, Jim Edgar of Illinois, and Lincoln C. Almond of Rhode Island, for a review of the welfare bill's provision that would cut off food stamps and disability benefits for millions of immigrants if they do not become citizens by August.

Bhutto Asks Pakistani Court To Cancel Monday's Elections

The Washington Post
LAHORE, Pakistan

In the year when Pakistan celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence, these are the main candidates for prime minister in next week's election: two former premiers accused of corruption and a former cricket star who has never voted.

And the election may not even be held.

Many voters may not care, given their choices. They have grown disgusted with three successive elected parliaments that have not delivered job growth or clean government in a poor nation rated last year as the world's second most corrupt. Analysts predict that widespread public cynicism about government will reduce voter turnout to about 25 percent, down from the historical average of 42 percent.

The parliamentary election scheduled for next Monday would be the fourth since 1988, when Benazir Bhutto led a successful movement to restore democracy in a country ruled by military leaders for half of its existence.

Bhutto's second term as prime minister ended after three years when President Farooq Leghari dismissed her government on Nov. 5 for corruption and abuse of power. But Bhutto has challenged the grounds for her dismissal under a 1985 constitutional amendment authored by the last military government, fueling speculation that the Supreme Court, when it rules on her appeal this week, might cancel the election and reinstall her government. If not, she in any case is the candidate of her party.