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2 HHS Officials Quit Over Welfare Changes

By Barbara Vobejda and Judith Havemann
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 12, 1996; Page A01

Two high-ranking officials at the Department of Health and Human Services resigned yesterday in protest over President Clinton's decision to sign the welfare bill, an unusually public move that underscores the deep divisions within the administration over the legislation.

Peter Edelman, acting assistant secretary for planning and evaluation, and Mary Jo Bane, assistant secretary for children and families, submitted their letters of resignation yesterday, both citing the welfare measure as the reason.

The resignations were notable not only because they represented open discontent with a president among his own appointees but because of the relative prominence of the two officials involved. Edelman and his wife, Children's Defense Fund head Marian Wright Edelman, have had a close personal friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton. And Bane has long been one of the country's leading academics on welfare issues, as the author of books and research that have influenced thinking and policymaking on the subject.

Both were part of a brain trust on welfare policy overseen by HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala, who was among several Clinton advisers said to have been protesting behind the scenes when the president was debating whether to sign the legislation last month.

Conservatives and liberals agreed yesterday that the resignations were unlikely to have much impact on the presidential campaign, but they nonetheless saw the moves as evidence of Clinton's lingering disaffection among liberals. The left has been generally vocal in its anger over the welfare bill and disappointed in the president's more centrist stance on issues from affirmative action and gay marriage to reducing the size of government.

The welfare legislation, which becomes effective Oct. 1, ends the six-decade-old guarantee of assistance to eligible poor Americans, turns control of welfare programs over to the states and reduces future federal spending on these programs by $54 billion in the next six years.

"I have devoted the last 30-plus years to doing whatever I could to help in reducing poverty in America," wrote Edelman. "I believe the recently enacted welfare bill goes in the opposite direction."

Bane, whose office is in charge of implementing the new law, said her "deep concerns about the welfare bill . . . have led me to conclude that I cannot continue to serve."

Neither Edelman nor Bane would comment beyond their prepared statements, and it was unclear why they waited for more than a month after Clinton announced his intention to sign the bill to offer their resignations.

The departure of Edelman and Bane follows last month's resignation of another top HHS official, Wendell E. Primus, deputy assistant secretary for policy and evaluation, who also left in protest over the welfare bill.

Such public protests are rare in U.S. government. Although several State Department officials resigned to show their displeasure with the Clinton administration's earlier policy on Bosnia, there had been no similar actions over domestic policy.

Edelman, Bane and Primus, along with David Ellwood, who resigned his assistant secretary post at HHS a year ago, were central players in formulating the administration's welfare policy.

Presidential advisers were split over whether the president should veto new legislation approved this summer, with many of those at HHS who have specialized in poverty research and social policy arguing against a signature. Administration critics of the legislation argued that it reduced spending on welfare programs too much and would throw a million more children into poverty.

Presidential spokesman Michael McCurry told reporters yesterday that "the president highly values the service of both of them. They've done a spectacular job caring for the needs of America's poor and American children."

Edelman said in his statement that he would return to the faculty at Georgetown University Law Center. His departure from government ends a turbulent saga that began when the Clintons arrived in Washington as close friends of the Edelmans. Hillary Clinton had chaired the board of directors for the Children's Defense Fund, an advocacy organization founded by Marian Wright Edelman.

But the friendship has crumbled, in large part because a judgeship that the president promised Peter Edelman has never materialized. It was widely thought that Edelman would be nominated for a seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and later a vacancy on the U.S. District Court, but in both cases his name was never put forward in the face of conservative complaints about the liberal nature of his writings and reputation.

The level of animosity in the relationship was apparent when Marian Wright Edelman released a statement the day Clinton signed the welfare bill.

"President Clinton's signature on this pernicious bill makes a mockery of his pledge not to hurt children," she said.

Bane, 54, is a former college professor and commissioner of the New York Department of Social Services.

Bane will be replaced by her second in command, Olivia Golden, a former Children's Defense Fund official. And Edelman will be replaced by Jack Ebeler, who has served as deputy assistant secretary for planning and evaluation. Both are subject to Senate confirmation.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Co.

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