There have been no shouting matches, no voices raised in righteous anger, not even many calls to justice and morality.
Considering the acrimonious history of welfare politics, the past three weeks of debate about President Carter's new welfare plan in a special House subcommittee have been surprisingly smooth and friendly.
The smoothness is almost certainly deceptive. When Congress takes up the subject again in late January, it will face two difficult issues that could derail the plan on which administration officials have lavished extraordinary time and energy.
Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D - Calif.), wants to take the 1.4 million public service jobs Carter proposes to create for welfare recipients out of the welfare bill.
If Carter is going to require welfare recipients to work, Hawkins says, he should not segregrate them into a second - class category of jobs that have no health benefits, no sick pay, no disability or retirements, no vacations, no seniority, no chance for advancement, and which for the most part pay the minimum wage or 10 per cent more.
Whether Hawkins succeeds or not, chairman Al Ullman (D - Ore.) of the House Ways and Means Committee will then try to deal the Carter plan a knockout blow.
Ullman has said the nation isn't ready for as drastic an overhaul of welfare as Carter proposes. He has promised to offer a much more limited alternative, a move that could well provoke a more acrimonious rerun of the three weeks of debate just ended.
"The conservatives had laid off this bill," said John Kramer, deputy counsel to the House Agriculture Committee. "But you just wait until March or April. They've been busy with other things."
When the subcommittee members quit work and went home for Christmas, they had given Carter many of the concepts he wanted - if not the details.
They tentatively agreed to extend a federal minimum income in cash to all the poor. They approved a work requirement for many welfare recipients. And they gave Carter the specific minimum annual income he asked for - $4,200 for a typical family of four. That's less than the poverty level, but higher than total welfare benefits in 10 southern states.
Those broad, general concepts are very similar except in dollars to the family assistance plan President Nixon unsuccessfully tried to get Congress to approve almost eight years ago.
They would replace the three major existing welfare programs: aid to families with dependent children (AFDC), supplemental security income (SSI), and food stamps.
But the subcommittee debates around those concepts have been very different from debates around the family assistance plan.
In 1970 and 1971 the big question was whether the federal government should set a minimum income for every American family. In the subcommittee the question has not been whether, but how much, and who should pay.
"Nobody's going to live very good on the money we have to parcel out," said Chairman James C. Corman (D - Calif.)
A lot of things have changed since the days of FAP.
The recession of 1973 - 74 strained some state budgets to the breaking point, making some federal takeover of welfare costs a much higher priority.
It's become a bloodless argument about who wins and who loses, not about what's morally right," said one Department of Health, Education and welfare official, who was active in planning the family assistance plan.
Many of the most ardent foes of the specific way Nixon proposed to operate FAP are now in the Carter administration arguing just, as ardently for the ways Carter wants to operate similar concepts.
And there is no longer a nationally organized group of welfare recipients trying to keep debate focused on what the poor want, as the National Welfare Rights Organization did in 1970 and 1971 with its lobbying, and its constant call for a $6,500 guaranteed annual income.
"Without pressure from recipients, for very large families. A loss for the administration
Writing into the plan specific protections for the rights of recipients that are in current law, but which the administration did not include. Among them are the right to a fair hearing before being cut off welfare, and the right to have eligibility determined promptly, without unreasonable delay. A clear win for recipients.
Allowing recipients who are required to work to turn down private and other unsubsidized jobs, they
Winners and losers were a big issue during the subcommittee's initial three weeks of debate. And they were determined not by sweeping changes in the overall concepts, but by small changes in the myriad of overpowering details that frequently bogged the subcommittee down as it moved through more than 80 votes.
Some of the key changes the subcommittee made in Carter's plan, along with who won and who lost as indicated by the debates, were:
Judging the eligibility of applicants by their previous month's income, as is common now, instead of averaging the preceding six months' income as Carter proposed. A win for applicants who suddenly lost incomes of more than the minimum wage. A loss for the administration, which complained the change would add 8.8 million people to the rolls, and $1.7 billion to estimated costs.
Slightly cutting the earned income tax credit, which allows recipients who work to keep, in effect, a larger portion of their welfare payments. A loss for the administration, despite estimated cost savings of $2.6 billion, because administration officials say it lowers the incentive to work. Also a loss for working poor families with more than minimal incomes, who would have to give up a somewhat greater share of their benefits. A slight win for the poorest working families. And a possible win in terms of getting conservatives in Congress to support the program.
Indexing the minimum income to the cost of living. A win for recipients. The administration objected.
Awarding a bit more federal money to states willing to raise benefits to the poverty line.A win for states that wish to do that, since they will spend fewer of their own dollars.
Allowing states to ignore the earnings of dependent students up to age 21, similar to present law. A win for their families, who will not find their benefits reduced by the earnings from paper routes, or after - school supermarket or other jobs. A loss for the administration, which opposed the change.
Dropping the $800 reduction in benefits imposed on families that move in with their eligible families. A loss for the administration, which said it was trying to "take account of the economies of families living together," as current law does.
Ignoring the portion of a family's benefits that would have been in food stamps under existing law when setting public housing rents. A win for families in public housing, where rents generally rise as cash income rises. The value of food stamps is not counted now in setting the rents.
Scrapping Carter's proposal that families of eight or more get the same benefits as a family of seven. A win don't offer equal pay for equal work. A loss for unscrupulous employers who might try to get welfare recipients at the minimum wage to do jobs for which they pay other employees more.
The Department of Health, Education and Welfare, which bore the brunt of the subcommittee's probing questions, has not yet figured out the total cost of all the changes.
Some of them may have unintended consequences becuase of the welfare system's complexity.
Jodie Allen, an aide to Labor Secretary Ray Marshall, said some changes, when coupled with the subcommittee's decision to make welfare benefits taxable for the first time, mean a mother of three in New York City with very high work expenses and a job paying just above the minimum wage could find her earnings taxed at 102 per cent.
"Under the committee bill she'd be better off not working," Allen said. "Mind you, she's giving up all her leisure, all her time at home, to work. It's generally considered un - American to ask people to work for nothing."
When they next meet about Jan. 23, subcommittee members face still more major decisions before they can give their version of Carter's plan final approval, and send it to three more committees: Ways and Means, Agriculture, and Education and Labor.
Rep. Matthew F. McHugh (D - N.Y.) promised one more attempt to raise benefits to the poverty line, currently $5,580 for a family of four. Two earlier attempts to do that failed by nearly 2 - to - 1 votes.
Rep. Barber Conable (R - N.Y.), among others, thinks the various tax provisions in the plan ought to be part of Carter's tax revision legislation, not part of a welfare bill.
The final form of bill, however, hinges more on the fate of Ullman's strategy than on anything else.
Ullman's alternative is still little more than a collection of ideas with no firm figures. But he wants to keep the three existing programs, leaving SSI pretty much untouched and dramatically changing AFDC.
According to sources, Ullman wants to require states to continue spending some high proportion of what they now spend, perhaps 80 per cent.
Then, if they want to raise benefits, they would have to do it entirely with state funds. But the federal government would pay entirely for any future increases in caseload - at least up to the 1977 benefit levels.
The rationale is that unemployment is more a matter of national economic policy than state policy, so under Ullman's plan, the federal government would pay if a rise in unemployment increased the number of cases.