Clinton Signs Welfare Reform Bill, Angers Liberals
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Aug. 22) -- President Bill Clinton today signed a sweeping welfare reform bill that ends the open-ended guarantee of federal aid and shifts much of the responsibility for public assistance to the states. (288K WAV sound)
The measure, hammered out in Congress over the past several months, imposes a five-year limit on benefits, requires able-bodied recipients to go to work after two years, and gives states incentives to create jobs for people on welfare.
Clinton said it's far from perfect legislation, but will go a long way toward overcoming "the flaws of the welfare system for the people who are trapped in it."
The president told a White House gathering the legislation also should end the scapegoating and politicking that has surrounded the welfare debate for decades.
"When I sign it, we all have to start again," Clinton said. "And this becomes everybody's responsibility. After I sign my name to this bill, welfare will no longer be a political issue.
"The two parties cannot attack each other over it. Politicians cannot attack poor people over it. There are no encrusted habits, systems and failures that can be laid at the foot of someone else.
"This is not the end of welfare reform, this is the beginning, and we have to all assume responsibility," Clinton added.
In a talk that seemed aimed at liberals who have accused him of betraying poor children, the president said he and Congress can correct what's wrong with this bill, but they could not afford to miss the chance to fix a system that does not reinforce the values of work and family.
He quoted Robert F. Kennedy, who said, "Work is the meaning of what this country is all about. We need it as individuals. We need to sense it in our fellow citizens, and we need it as a society and as a people."
Said Clinton: "Today, we are taking an historic chance to make welfare what it was meant to be, a second chance, not a way of life."
"If it doesn't work now, it's everybody's fault: mine, yours and everybody else," Clinton said. "There is no longer a system in the way."
The president vetoed two earlier bills which he said contained too little protection for poor children, but said this one contains $14 billion for child care -- $4 billion more than the present law.
"I signed this bill because this is an historic chance, where Republicans and Democrats got together and said we're going to take this historic chance to try to recreate the nation's social bargain with the poor," he said. "We can change what is wrong. We should not have passed this historic opportunity to do what is right."
Clinton uged businesses, non-profit agencies and individuals -- anyone who's ever made a disparaging comment about welfare recipients, he said -- to consider what they can do to help someone move from the welfare rolls to employment rolls.
Clinton was introduced by Lillie Harden, one of those "success stories" that politicians love to surround themselves with.
A resident of Little Rock, she first meet Clinton in 1984 when he was governor. After getting benefits for two years, she enrolled in an experimental program called "the Arkansas Work Program." In 1986, at the National Governors Convention, Clinton held her up as an example of how welfare reform can work. Today she works in the deli department of a supermarket and supports her four children.
Asked about opposition to the bill, even by groups normally allied with the president, such as the National Organization for Women, White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said: "We acknowledge there are strong feelings against this bill amongst those who are traditionally supportive of the president and president's party. But the president is determined to make welfare reform work; he promised the American people that we would reform welfare as we know when he ran in 1992."
This was the week's third bill signing, part of the White House's effort to generate momentum going into the Democratic convention, which starts Monday in Chicago. Earlier, Clinton signed legislation boosting the minimum wage and guaranteeing the portability of health insurance, when workers change or lose jobs.
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