The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Wednesday, July 24, 1996              TAG: 9607240570
SECTION: FRONT                   PAGE: A1   EDITION: FINAL 
DATELINE: WASHINGTON                        LENGTH:   80 lines


The Senate approved a comprehensive welfare bill Tuesday that would end the longstanding federal guarantee of cash assistance for the nation's poorest children and give states vast new power to run their own welfare and work programs with lump sums of federal money.

The vote was 74-24. Democrats split, with 23 voting for the bill and 23 opposed. All but one of the 52 Republicans supported the measure, which calls for the most sweeping welfare changes since the New Deal and is similar to the House bill passed last week.

Virginia's senators, Republican John Warner and Democrat Charles Robb, voted for the bill.

The Senate approved only two of the four amendments most ardently sought by President Clinton, who said he would insist on further ``improvements'' as a condition of signing the legislation.

Campaigning in California, Clinton welcomed changes by the Senate but said more were needed.

``You can put wings on a pig, but you don't make it an eagle,'' the president said. ``We want real welfare reform. Today the Senate took some major steps to improve the bill going through Congress.''

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said: ``History will praise this day. A system that has failed in every aspect will now be thrown away. We'll start over with a new system that has a chance of giving people an opportunity instead of a handout.''

But Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill. said: ``I believe that the Senate will rue the day that we passed this legislation. This day, in the name of reform, the Senate will do actual violence to poor children, putting millions of them into poverty who were not in poverty before.''

In 1995, Virginia's General Assembly passed a welfare reform plan that made the state a national leader in capping payments from Aid To Families With Dependent Children.

Hailed by proponents as a bipartisan effort to change a decades-old system that encourages illegitimacy and failure to work, Virginia's reform project is celebrating its one-year anniversary this month.

``Now that we're coming to some closure on this nationally, other states are going to look to Virginia and follow our lead on this,'' said Clarence H. Carter, commissioner for the Virginia Department of Social Services. ``There's been a great deal of discussion about reforming welfare. It's not a theoretical discussion here. It's working here.''

Carter said Virginia's reforms are ``tougher than the federal requirements'' approved Tuesday.

``There is nothing in the federal legislation that will keep us from operating the Virginia Independence Program as we have been,'' he said.

The Senate measure, like the House bill, would impose a five-year lifetime limit on cash assistance payments to any family, and states would be allowed to set stricter time limits.

Democratic support for the bill eroded Tuesday as the Senate rejected several Democratic amendments, generally on party lines.

The only Republican to opposed the bill, Sen. Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina, said it was not tough enough.

In a surprise Tuesday, the Senate narrowly rejected one of the four amendments sought by Clinton, a proposal that would have allowed states to provide vouchers or other forms of noncash assistance to families denied cash benefits because of the time limits. The vouchers could have been used to obtain diapers, cribs, clothing, medicine or school supplies for children.

The House version of the bill does not allow the use of federal money for such vouchers, and Republicans twisted arms on the Senate floor Tuesday to make sure vouchers would not be permitted under the Senate measure, either.

Democrats failed to win approval for another of the four amendments, the one that would have allowed public assistance and social services for legal immigrants, who are denied aid under the Republican bill.

But Democrats prevailed on two amendments for which the White House has lobbied. One would guarantee Medicaid coverage for people who might lose such health insurance because of new restrictions on welfare eligibility.

The other would retain the federal guarantee of food stamps for the poor, denying states the opportunity to set eligibility and benefit standards for food aid financed by the federal government.

The new bill goes now to a conference committee composed of negotiators from the House and the Senate. Republicans said they wanted to complete work on the bill by the end of next week so they could send it to Clinton. MEMO: Staff writer Sue Robinson contributed to this report. by CNB