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Clinton Says He Will Sign Welfare Overhaul; House Passes It

July 31, 1996 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton said Wednesday he would sign a historic welfare bill ending the 60-year federal guarantee of open-ended assistance to the poor, all but assuring enactment as the presidential campaign enters the final three months.

The House quickly passed the bill, 328-101, and the Senate was expected to approve it on Thursday.

Clinton pledged during his 1992 president campaign to end the current welfare system, but he had vetoed two previous overhaul plans from the Republican-led Congress, leading the GOP to accuse him of reneging on his promises.

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He said the latest bill had ``serious flaws″ but he would sign it because ``I believe we have a duty to seize the opportunity it gives us to end welfare as we know it by moving people from welfare to work, demanding responsibility and doing better by children.″

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., countered, ``We were all very uncertain and we certainly hope that he sticks to this decision no matter what the more liberal members of his party say to him.″

``It was inevitable that the present welfare system was going to be put behind us,″ Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fla., a key author of the bill, said shortly before it passed. ``The degree of success that we are going to have is going to be a victory for the American people, for the poor.″

The bill _ estimated to save the federal government $55 billion to $56 billion over six years _ would set a lifetime limit of five years of welfare per family, require an able-bodied adult to work after two years but allow hardship exemptions for up to 20 percent of recipients. It also would give the states block grants to run the programs and let them set many of the rules, such as terminating benefits sooner than five years.

Some liberal Democrats wasted no time decrying Clinton’s decision, speaking out on the House floor even before he announced it.

``My president will boldly throw one million into poverty,″ said Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.

Added Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.: ``Unfortunately, the president has joined the Republicans now in making the children the victims of the very system he said he wanted to reform.″

But Clinton got praise from the Democratic Governors’ Association, which called the bill ``a victory for all who believe welfare must provide a second chance but not a way of life.″

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Acknowledging the concerns of the Democratic left, Clinton said the bill was ``far, far from perfect″ and said he would work to fix what he considered excessive cuts in food stamps and benefits for legal immigrants who have not yet become citizens.

At the same time, he said the bill ``gives us a chance we haven’t had before to break the cycle of dependency that has existed for millions and millions of our fellow citizens, exiling them from the world of work. It gives structure, meaning and dignity to most of our lives.″

Clinton’s political advisers predicted the decision would take the issue off the campaign agenda of Republican rival Bob Dole, who promptly called the president’s move ``an election-year conversion.″

``While I cannot applaud the rationale behind the president’s swiftly changing positions, I commend him for finally climbing on board the Dole welfare proposal,″ he said in a statement issued by his campaign.

Republican Rep. Shaw said, ``July 31 has got to go down as independence day for those who have been trapped in a system″ with ``layers of intergenerational welfare which has corrupted their souls and stolen their futures.″

While the bill makes some concessions to Clinton, it remains tough, forcing people off welfare and into jobs while cutting back on help to move them there by eliminating a $3 billion work program the House had approved.

It would let states deny Medicaid coverage to an adult who loses welfare benefits by not going to work. It also would make it harder for a single parent to escape sanctions for not working because of an inability to find child care. Under the House and Senate bills, the child had to be under 11. Under the final bill, the child must be under 6.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., one of 23 Democrats who opposed the Senate’s bill when it passed last week, said he respected Clinton’s decision but would vote against the final bill.

It was clear before Clinton’s announcement that the bill would pass. The House had passed its own version two weeks ago, 256-170, while the Senate passed its bill last week, 74-24, with both bills getting bipartisan support.

Had Clinton chosen to veto the measure, Congress likely would not have been able to garner the two-thirds majorities in both houses needed to override it.

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