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WASHINGTON -- The House approved a Republican welfare reform bill Thursday that would require more single mothers to work and provide hundreds of millions of dollars to promote marriage.
Nearly identical to a plan put forth by President Bush, the GOP legislation passed by a 230-192 vote, largely along party lines. Florida representatives stuck with their parties with the exception of Democrat Allen Boyd. The plan would renew a 1996 welfare overhaul that allowed states to impose tough new rules and helped spark a massive reduction in welfare rolls.
Members of both parties declared the 1996 overhaul a success, even as they differed sharply on what steps are needed to further help the poorest Americans.
The bill puts strict limits on the amount of time most welfare recipients can spend in education and training programs, requires states to put more of its welfare recipients to work and requires that each person work more hours.
It limits people to five years of benefits over their lifetime and continues to ban legal immigrants from aid programs. It provides $16.5-billion a year for states to run their programs and offers a modest increase in child care spending.
Republicans said the key to success was putting people to work.
"A check in the mail every month won't teach responsibility. It won't build confidence," said Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio.
Studies find that most people who have left welfare are working, earning more than they got from the government but not enough to escape poverty.
Democrats said simply getting someone off welfare is not good enough and argued that education, training and access to child care are key to helping people earn a decent wage.
The House bill includes up to $300-million per year for experiments promoting marriage. It also extends a $50-million program promoting abstinence from sex until marriage, which bans any discussion of contraception.
Both programs have attracted strong opposition, with opponents saying neither has been proven effective. Some worry the marriage program could push people into bad marriages.
PARTIAL-BIRTH ABORTION: Making good on a November election promise, House Republicans began pushing a bill Thursday that would ban a controversial late-term abortion procedure.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said GOP leaders hope to get the bill passed by the full House before the Easter break.
OIL RESERVES: Senators were divided Thursday on whether the government should release crude oil from its emergency reserve in an attempt to boost sagging petroleum inventories and dampen soaring energy prices.
Several oil industry experts told a Senate hearing that premature release of oil from the government's Strategic Petroleum Reserve could backfire and prompt producers such as Saudi Arabia to cancel plans to increase production.
JUDICIAL NOMINEES: Senate Republicans overcame another Democratic blockade against President Bush's judicial nominees Thursday to push a lawyer criticized by the disabled one step closer to the federal bench.
On an 11-8 vote that fell mostly along party lines, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee forced a vote on Jeffrey Sutton, making him the second appeals court nominee to win approval from the panel this year and the 19th since Bush took office.
But Democrats succeeded in blocking votes on three other appellate nominees who had been up for a vote Thursday, arguing that they needed more time to question the candidates.
SCHOOL VOUCHERS: Senate Republican leaders are proposing legislation that would expand school vouchers and offer extra help for children with disabilities.
The proposals planned to be released today will include up to $75-million in private-school vouchers for children who are eligible to transfer out of their failing schools but have no other public school available, GOP aides said.
BALANCED BUDGET: A group of House members introduced a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution on Thursday, arguing that recent deficits demonstrate Congress doesn't have the discipline to balance the budget.
"The time has come for a little constitutional supervision over the Congress, just like we have to have parental supervision over our children," said Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.