ONLY A CHURL could find anything to complain about in the goals for welfare reform that President Carter announced yesterday. Work, equity, generosity, economy, efficiency, family stability - a social policy could hardly be based on a more desirable set of values. The question, of course, is how Jimmy Carter is going to set there from here. We think there was great merit in the President's enunciating these broad purposes of a reformed welfare system. The more a President speaks sense on welfare, the better. But nobody should be under the impression that the President has indicated how he intends to fulfill these ambitious goals.
In the general outline Mr. Carter set forth there are elements of both the consolidated cash program that was favored by HEW and the more job-oriented program favored by the Labor Department and others. It appears, however, that to the extent that a hard choice has been made, Mr. Carter has opted for the guaranteed-jobs program as distinct from some variation on the negative income tax. At his briefing there was talk of guaranteeing jobs, and the emphasis of his prepared statement was on his course of action. Nevertheless, Mr. Carter did leave himself some room to rearrange his policy, and he also espoused so many worthy - if costly and complex - goals that it seems obvious that some of them will have to be deferred to fulfill others.
By August 1, the President said, all this will have been rendered down into draft legislation to be presented to the Congress. He added that he figures if Congress enacts the legislation early in 1978, the new law will be ready to go into effect three years later. This matter-of-fact timetable does not give you any idea of the exertions and perplexities and conglicts likely to fill the time: Finding both the jobs and the money to do what Mr. Carter finally decides he wants to do; facing up to the enormous complications that will attend his plan to "scrap" the present system and put into effect a "totally new" one, if he really goes throught with it; persuading the Congress, the labor unions, the welfare lobbies, the governors and local welfare officials, his own bureaucracy and the American public that welfare should be reformed along the lines he has in mind.
At the moment an awful lot of administration planes are coming into a holding pattern over Russell Long's airport, waiting for clearance to land. The Senate Finance Committee, of which Sen. Long is chairman, will be asked to deal with energy, tax, Social Security and welfare measures in fairly short order. And Al Ullman's Ways and Means Committee in the House welfare reform, once drafted, is going to take some considerable time in getting through the Congress - if it does get through. We admired the air of conviction and calm Mr. Carter imparted to his remarks on the subject. We hope he will be able to keep both when he - and his administration and Congress - get down to the really tough conflicts and choices.