Clinton backs Republican welfare cuts

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The Independent Online
President Bill Clinton provoked uproar on the liberal wing of the Democratic Party yesterdaywhen he announced, in the face of stiff opposition from some of his own White House advisers, that he would sign a Republican welfare Bill which eliminates guarantees of government assistance to America's poorest children.

Republican leaders immediately applauded Mr Clinton's decision to sign the Bill, widely viewed as the most drastic assault on the US welfare system since Franklin Roosevelt introduced his New Deal for the poor and unemployed in the 1930s.

But polls show the Bill is popular among American voters, and critics of Mr Clinton were saying he based yesterday's decision less on the interests of America's most disadvantaged citizens - most of whom do not vote - than on a cynical election-year strategy to eat into the support of Bob Dole, his Republican rival in the 5 November polls.

The Bill, Mr Clinton said yesterday, provides "a historic opportunity to make welfare what it was meant to be: a second chance, not a way of life". He said that he had pledged on taking office to "end welfare as we know it" and that by signing the Bill now he was seizing the opportunity to live up to that promise and "transform a broken system that traps too many in a cycle of dependence".

Mr Clinton conceded that he had taken his decision despite "significant division" between his advisers. But "on balance", he said, he had decided to sign.

The key elements of the legislation are:

to reduce eligibility for Aid to Families with Dependent Children, America's main cash benefit programme, to five years;

to oblige heads of families to find work within two years or lose welfare benefits;

to reduce food stamps by an average of $600 (pounds 400) for families earning less than $6,300 a year;

to deprive all legal immigrants of all benefits for the first five years of their stay in the US.

Mr Clinton said yesterday that before signing the Bill he would seek to persuade Congress to soften the provisions affecting legal immigrants andfood stamps for working families, but he did not say he would veto the Bill if such changes were not made.

John Kasich, a leading Republican in Congress, spoke for his party when he hailed Mr Clinton's decision to sign the Bill as "a great day for the American people".

Charles Rangel, a Democratic congressman bitterly opposed to the Bill, spoke for the liberal wing of his party when he took the floor at the House of Representatives to say: "My President will boldly throw one million into poverty. This is a political Bill. It should not be passed into law."

The New York Times described the Bill last week as "odious" and "offensive". In an editorial yesterday, the Washington Post said the Bill was "a terrible piece of legislation".

Although Republican leaders in Congress were celebrating Mr Clinton's decision to sign the Bill, the biggest political loser is likely to be Mr Dole. By agreeing to sign, Mr Clinton has deprived him of a potent election issue - something he desperately needs if he is to have any hope of injecting life into his moribund campaign.