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Senate Poised to Begin Debate on Dole's Welfare Plan : Legislation: Majority leader introduces his reform blueprint. But conservatives, Democrats are expected to try to alter bill starting Monday.


WASHINGTON — The Senate began consideration Saturday of a groundbreaking plan devised by its Republican leaders to rework the nation's safety net for the poor by giving states authority to design and run their own welfare programs.

The package, if enacted, would end a 50-year federal guarantee of cash assistance for poor women with children, impose a lifetime limit of five years of benefits for adults, and reduce federal welfare spending by $70 billion over five years.

Introducing the GOP measure in the waning hours of a rare Saturday session, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) said he senses a "true national consensus to transform welfare" by requiring able-bodied recipients to work.

Debate on the issue is expected to start in earnest when the Senate gets back to work on Monday. Critics of Dole's blueprint already have laid plans to alter it with amendments. But Dole expressed confidence that after a scheduled 40 to 80 hours of deliberations, the Senate will pass the legislation.

Democrats and conservative Republicans, who for different reasons have expressed significant reservations about the leadership measure, have signaled their intent to filibuster the bill. Even if the delaying tactics fail, they are certain to express their displeasure in emotional speeches on the floor.

Liberals worry that children could be hurt by passage of the measure, and believe the government has an obligation to provide more money for child care and job training if it is serious about forcing recipients into the work force.

"I hope the outcome will be better than forecast," said Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), referring to Dole's prediction that the measure will be approved relatively intact.

The House passed its own version of welfare reform in March. The initiative, a centerpiece of the Republican legislative agenda, became bogged down in the Senate. Conservative Republicans insisted on including provisions that would require states to fight the problem of out-of-wedlock births by denying benefits to teen-age mothers, and restricting the amount states could pay to families on welfare who have additional babies.

In the end, Dole refused to include those provisions in his package.

More conservative members of his party are expected to introduce some of the rejected provisions as amendments during floor debate.

Republicans also were at odds over the formula for dividing funds among states, but reached a consensus last week.

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