Background: Politics of Welfare Reform
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SPOKESMAN: –on the motion to adjourn, all in favor signify by saying aye.
KWAME HOLMAN: This morning, a group of determined House Democrats used any means they could think of to delay the final vote on welfare reform legislation.
CONGRESSMAN: I object to the vote on the grounds that a quorum is not present, and make a point of order that a quorum is not present.
MR. HOLMAN: A version of the measure passed last week with nearly unanimous Republican support and some Democratic support. Today’s bill, slightly modified, after differences were worked out with the Senate was expected to be approved just as easily if and when members got a chance to vote on it.
CONGRESSPERSON: Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Rule 30, I object to the gentleman’s use of the exhibit.
SPOKESMAN: Does the gentleman plan to use this exhibit?
CONGRESSMAN: Yes, I do.
CONGRESSPERSON: Mr. Speaker–
SPOKESMAN: We now in the second case, Mr. Speaker, of a chart being put up that is blank that, in fact, has no substance–
MR. HOLMAN: After an early morning meeting, Republicans had been anxious to move ahead on welfare reform.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH, Speaker of the House: I would say we had a very, very good House Republican conference just now. We discussed working on welfare reform, which, as you know, has been reported out of conference and we think is a very important breakthrough.
MR. HOLMAN: Democrats, however, weren’t sure.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT, Minority Leader: I think we’ll know that later in the day. I think the President is reviewing the bill; he didn’t get it until very late last night. He hasn’t had a chance to really read the words. We all have not had a chance to read the words. It’s important to be able to do that before you make up your mind, so he’s still looking at it, we’re still looking at it.
MR. HOLMAN: And that’s why Democrats delayed the vote. Many first wanted to know whether President Clinton would sign the new modified version of welfare reform or veto it. The word finally came early this afternoon.
REP. SCOTT MCINNIS, (R) Colorado: First of all, I’m pleased to announce that we now understand that the President is going to have a press here in about eight and a half minutes where he will announce that he is in support of this bill.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Today we have an historic opportunity to make welfare what it was meant to be–a second chance, not a way of life. And even though the bill has serious flaws that are unrelated to welfare reform, I believe we have a duty to seize the opportunity it give us to end welfare as we know it.
MR. HOLMAN: In its broad description, the welfare reform bill will limit benefits to five years and require able-bodied recipients to find work within two years. However, states can exempt 20 percent of welfare recipients from those restrictions. States will receive welfare money in the form of block grants and have the flexibility to design additional program requirements and restrictions; however, the bill was modified to address some presidential concerns. Some of those concerns were addressed just in the last day or so.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I made my principles for real welfare reform very clear from the beginning. First and foremost, it should be about moving people from welfare to work. It should impose time limits on welfare. It should give people the child care and the health care they need to move from welfare to work without hurting their children. It should crack down on child support enforcement, and it should protect our children. This legislation meets these principles.
MR. HOLMAN: But the President also pointed out several provisions in the bill he still was not satisfied with, one of them being the cut-off of benefits to legal immigrants.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: It is just wrong to say to people we’ll let you work here, you’re helping our country, you’ll pay taxes, you serve in our military, you may get killed defending America, but if somebody mugs you on the street corner, or you get cancer, or you get hit by a car, or the same thing happens to your children, we’re not going to give you assistance anymore. I am convinced this would never have passed alone, and I am convinced when we send legislation to Congress to correct it, it will be corrected.
MR. HOLMAN: As the President spoke, the welfare debate in the House was underway, leading to a strong bipartisan vote in favor of the reform legislation.
REP. SUE MYRICK, (R) North Carolina: The President’s decision to sign this welfare reform bill is really great news for working Americans and for people in need. The welfare bill will really reform and empower the states to be creative in solving their own problems, and it’s going to help end the cycle of dependency and poverty which really truly helps millions of children with a decent fulfilling future.
REP. CHARLES STENHOLM, (D) Texas: While this Welfare Reform Conference Report is far from perfect, it is clearly preferable to continuing the current system and preferable to welfare legislation considered earlier. For these reasons, I support the Welfare Reform Conference Report. I’m extremely pleased that the President has agreed to sign it, and I commend those who have worked so hard for so long in order to bring us to this day.
REP. CLAY SHAW, (R) Florida: Mr. Speaker, I come over here to do something I’ve never done before, and that is to trespass on the Democrats’ side. Today we need to bring to closure an era of a failed welfare system. And I say that, and I say that from this side of the aisle because I know that the Democrats agree with the Republicans. This is not a Republican bill that we are shoving own your throats. We’re going to get a lot of Democrat support today, and I think the larger the support, the more chance there is for this to really work.
MR. HOLMAN: However, there remained a sizeable group of Democrats who did not vote for this bill.
REP. GEORGE MILLER, (D) California: This bill puts those children into poverty. That cannot be a proper purpose of the United States Congress, and that cannot be a proper endorsement for the President of the United States.
MR. HOLMAN: But for President Clinton, signing welfare reform legislation fulfills a commitment he made four years ago during the presidential campaign. And for House Republicans, welfare reform might be their most important accomplishment since retaking the Congress.