CLINTON MAY FEEL POLITICAL PRESSURE\GOP plugging for welfare bill.
In a shift that could cause intense political difficulty for the White House, many leading House Republicans say they now want to pass the Senate version of a vast welfare bill that President Clinton endorsed four months ago.
If he signed the bill, Clinton would infuriate many liberals in his own party. But if he vetoed it, he would disappoint voters hoping that he would fulfill his campaign promise to "end welfare as we know it."
For members of both parties, the decision over how to proceed is complicated by election-year politics and full of peril.
The White House and congressional Republicans both have strong views about the need for change in federal aid to the poor. The new Republican majorities in both houses passed separate welfare bills last year. Clinton declared that the House proposal was too harsh. To the dismay of many Democrats, he said last summer that he could accept the version drawn up in the Senate, though he later voiced concerns about the possibility that it would impoverish hundreds of thousands of children.
When House and Senate Republicans compromised and passed a welfare measure late last year, Clinton vetoed it. Republican leaders in the House say they believe they can exploit that veto in the coming election campaign by confronting Clinton with the proposal he supported in the past.
Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr., a Florida Republican who is chairman of the Ways and Means subcommittee responsible for welfare legislation, said, "I favor taking the Senate bill up, passing it, sending it over to the Senate and then sending it to the president." Most Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee share that view, Shaw added.
And Rep. Jimmy Hayes of Louisiana, a former Democrat who switched to the Republican Party last month, said he, too, wanted to send the Senate bill to the White House, in hopes that Clinton would sign it. He sees advantages for Republicans either way.
"If he signs the bill," Hayes said, "he will put himself at odds with many members of his own party, but it's good legislation and would make a vast improvement over the status quo. On the other hand, if he vetoes it, he will put himself at odds with his own past statements and shows that he's not serious about welfare reform."
But other Republicans say they fear that if they send the bill to Clinton, he will sign it and take credit for improving the welfare system, depriving Republicans of a potent election issue. Aides to House Speaker Newt Gingrich said he still was discussing strategy with fellow Republicans and had not decided whether to move the bill forward at this time.
The Senate bill would end the 60-year-old federal guarantee of cash assistance for millions of poor children and instead would give each state a lump sum of federal money for the general purpose of helping the poor.
Democrats worked with Republican moderates to refine the bill, which was approved in the Senate in September by a vote of 87-12, with support from 35 Democrats. The Senate bill would have provided more money than the House bill for child care; required states to continue spending their own money for welfare programs; and omitted stringent provisions of the House bill that, for example, would have denied cash assistance to families headed by unmarried women younger than 18.
In his State of the Union message last week, Clinton said: "Congress and I are near agreement on sweeping welfare reform. We agree on time limits, tough work requirements and the toughest possible child support enforcement."
If Congress approves a bipartisan welfare bill that moves people from welfare to work and provides adequate child care, he said, "I will sign it immediately."
Though Clinton expressed support for the Senate bill in September, administration officials refuse to say exactly where he stands on it now. Rahm I. Emanuel, a White House aide who coordinates welfare policy, said, "The president thinks the Senate bill is a good foundation for welfare reform, but we can do more" - for example, by adding money for child care.
The Senate bill provokes bitter disputes among Democrats. Some of the president's political advisers said they would urge him to sign it so that he could fulfill his 1992 campaign pledge to "end welfare as we know it," with a bill that would promote work and protect children.
But many liberal advocacy groups, like the Children's Defense Fund, agree with Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., who denounced the bill as "an obscene act of social regression," and White House officials said they believed that Hillary Rodham Clinton shared that view. Moynihan said that one of its provisions, a five-year limit on payment of welfare benefits, could push a million children into poverty.
A Senate Democrat who is close to Clinton said: "If Congress sends him the Senate bill, that would be the worst situation in the world for Clinton. It would really put him in an untenable position."
Major changes in welfare policy were included in the budget bill that Clinton vetoed Dec. 6. A month later, on Jan. 9, he vetoed a freestanding welfare bill, on the ground that it did not provide enough money for child care or job programs.
Despite those vetoes, White House officials say, Clinton is proud of his record on welfare. He has encouraged state welfare experiments by approving waivers for 35 states, and as a result, they say, welfare rolls are down and child support collections up.
The Senate bill is not conservative enough to satisfy some Republicans. In an interview Monday, Rep. James M. Talent, R-Mo., said "The provisions of the Senate bill on illegitimacy were very weak," and the work requirements ought to be stricter. Still, he said, "It's fine to use the Senate bill as a base."
Gov. Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, a Democrat, said Monday that it was conceivable the administration and Congress could reach a compromise on welfare. He added: "I certainly intend to push for one. Most governors would like to have a compromise, and I sense the president would, too."
Among the Democrats who voted for the Senate bill in September were liberals like Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland and John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, as well as Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the minority leader. But Ranit Schmelzer, a spokeswoman for Daschle, said Monday that it was not at all certain he would vote for it again.
Moynihan said one reason many Democrats supported the Senate bill was that "Our caucus kept getting word that the White House wanted it."
In a budget proposal earlier this month, Clinton reaffirmed his support for welfare legislation that would end the federal guarantee of cash assistance for poor children. Under his proposal, he said, the current program of Aid to Families With Dependent Children "would be terminated and replaced by a new conditional entitlement of limited duration." Clinton proposed "a five-year maximum time limit with a state option for vouchers at the end of that period to assist children."