Efforts to push a cut-back version of President Carter's $20 billion welfare bill through the House this year collapsed yesterday, killing welfare reform for this Congress.
House speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), told a meeting of House Democrat whips early yesterday, according to participants, that Senate leaders had informed him that a major welfare-revision bill simply can't come up in the Senate this year because of the lateness of the session.
Therefore, O'Neill told the whips, there isn't any point in bringing up even a truncated version of the president's bill, which in any case would have rough going in the House's present budget-cutting mood. Participants said this announcements was greeted with delight by the assembled whips.
Rep. James C. Corma (D-Calif.), sponsor of the administration bill and a key figure in negotiations to put together a less costly version that might have a chance this year, said, "All during the negotiations there's been a nagging question: Is it realistic to expect the Senate to act? The speaker said no . . . so there is no point in further negotiations."
The big $20-billion Carter bill, approved by a Corman subcommittee months ago, has been considered dead for many weeks because of its high costs. However, a few weeks ago Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph A. Califano Jr., House Ways and Means Chairman Al Ullman (D-Ore) Corman, other key House members and state and local government organizations agreed on basic provisions of a cut-down version in hopes of action this year. Ullman said he wanted something costing less than $10 billion a year.
When the new bill was drafted in detail, participants discovered that the cost would be $14 billion. Ullman told the others this was unacceptable, but some of the other participants said any further shaving of the bill could make it worthless.
Faced with this impasse, the negotiators asked O'Neill whether further attempts at compromise would be worthwhile since the Senate might not act anyhow. O'Neill told the whips yesterday that he had checked with Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), and had been told Senate action was extremely unlikely. Thus the whole effort collapsed. Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Calif.), one of those involved, said, "A futile effort was made to put something together. But it was half-baked."