WASHINGTON — CHILDREN of welfare mothers placed in orphanages? No aid to unmarried teenagers who have babies?
These are some of the far-reaching ideas for welfare reform being pushed by House Republicans in their so-called ``Contract With America.''
Democrats hope these controversial proposals will alienate voters who want reform, but who will see the GOP going too far. Even some Republican legislators and governors are saying ``not so fast.''
The GOP ``contract,'' signed by 300 Republican candidates for the House, includes a cutoff of welfare benefits after two years, a requirement that able-bodied recipients work, and denial of benefits to unwed welfare mothers who have additional children. (See GOP Agenda, Page 19.) These proposals have come under the greatest fire, especially since the election.
The contract would also end welfare's status as an ``entitlement,'' meaning the government would not automatically provide funds for all who qualify.
But Republicans are hardly unified on welfare reform, and players other than the vociferous Newt Gingrich (R) of Georgia, soon-to-be Speaker of the House, are beginning to be heard.
Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R) of Kansas, in line to chair the Labor and Human Resources Committee, warns against ``kamikaze'' reform - dismantling existing programs before knowing that proposed changes would work. She has put forth her own proposal to make welfare a completely state-run program. In return, the federal government would pay the states' portion of Medicaid expenses.
Last weekend, at a Republican Governors Association conference in Wil-liamsburg, Va., many governors raised concerns about the House-Republican plan, saying it should be up to states to decide about time limits for welfare and about work requirements. Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) of Wisconsin, who has instituted his own tough pilot program to limit welfare benefits to two years, endorsed the Kassebaum plan.
Even if Representative Gingrich can engineer his plan's passage in the House, victory in the Senate is far from certain. The Republicans will control the Senate by only a 53 to 47 margin, short of the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster. In addition, a contingent of Senate Republicans, including Kassebaum, tends toward libertarian positions on social issues and are likely not to fall in lockstep behind the body's more conservative activists, such as Sen. Phil Gramm (R) of Texas.
``Our overriding concern about any of these proposals to cut off aid is the effect on children,'' says an aide to a moderate Senate Republican who has not announced a position on welfare reform. ``You've got to be careful about beating up on poor women and poor mothers.''
The core welfare program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), serves 14 million people, 9 million of them children. Public-assistance programs - including AFDC, food stamps, public housing, and nutrition programs - cost local, state, and federal governments $324 billion in 1993, say Senate Republicans.
There is a national consensus, driven by the system's perversities, for reform. Welfare now discourages work, marriage, and savings, and most states - encouraged by President Clinton - have launched programs to allow welfare families to earn more money and keep their benefits. Some are experimenting with time cutoffs and denial of additional aid when a welfare mother has another child.
Like the House-Republican plan, Clinton's seeks to limit benefits to two years. But the differences are major:
* Clinton would require some recipients to enter a 12-month work program after two years of aid, and after that, if they cannot find unsubsidized work, their benefits would continue. The Republican plan requires states to put recipients in a work program after two years of welfare and allows states to deny benefits after a year in that program.
* Republicans would deny benefits to noncitizens; Clinton would limit eligibility, but not eliminate it.
* Republicans would end benefits to girls under 18 who have additional children out of wedlock and allow states to ban benefits to unwed mothers under 21 who have more children. In the Clinton plan, unmarried teen mothers are required to live with their families. It also allows states to deny additional benefits to mothers who have another baby while on welfare.
The debate over welfare reform has spurred an unusual coalition of anti-abortion and abortion-rights groups.
THEY argue that limiting or ending aid will encourage women to have abortions. But many conservatives applaud the GOP proposal for focusing on the growing problem of out-of-wedlock births. A key question, though, is what happens to unwed teen mothers and their babies, who would have no AFDC payments or housing benefits under the House Republican plan. Newt Gingrich matter-of-factly talks about placing the children in orphanages or putting the mothers and their children in group homes.
``I don't think there's a lot of support for removing kids from their parents,'' says Mark Melman, a Democratic consultant who has studied polls on welfare.
What is clear about public opinion, say Democrats and Republicans, is that support for welfare reform is high, as long as the resulting system is humane.