WASHINGTON – President Bush reminded Americans Friday that the 1996 welfare reform law is set to expire this year, and said Congress should incorporate his ideas into a new welfare bill that will require more from aid recipients.
Bush said he wants welfare recipients to put in 40-hour work weeks, but will restore food stamp benefits to legal immigrants five years after they arrive in the United States. He also wants Congress to pass a measure that would promote marriage for single parents.
Democrats say the president's plan is too inflexible because it doesn't allow recipients to get as much vocational training as they would allow, but the president said his program has incredible flexibility, and protects recipients whose income levels haven't risen from seeing their funding levels cut.
"When people need help, we need to help them. Now, it's conservative to trust local people but it's compassionate to provide flexibility so that rules and regulations don't prevent people from getting the help that we want them to get," Bush told an audience at the St. Stephens Community House, a faith-based organization that helps people make the transition from welfare to work.
The president is trying to return to his domestic agenda as all eyes are on the Middle East. Before he left the White House Friday for Columbus, Ohio, he praised the negotiators in Bethlehem, in particular the European Union, for ending the standoff at the Church of the Nativity. Thirteen Palestinian militants will be sent into exile in several European nations.
"The end of the standoff in Bethlehem is a positive development that removes an
obstacle to restoring security cooperation between the parties and should
advance the prospects for resuming a political process toward peace," Bush said in a written statement.
The hope now is that he can return to domestic issues that are sure to dominate the mid-term elections in November.
Democrats criticized Bush's welfare plan on Friday, saying that it does not provide states with the $15 billion necessary to cover the increased costs of the restored provisions Bush is recommending.
Bush was also in Columbus to attend a fundraiser for Gov. Bob Taft and the state GOP that is expected to raise $2.1 million. It is the president's first fundraiser in a week that has had him traveling to both Michigan and Wisconsin for education events. Next week the president visits Chicago.
Bush has targeted states critical to his re-election in his recent travels, and the Ohio trip exemplified the strategy. He won the state, with its large cache of 21 electoral votes, in 2000, but wants to protect the state, and keeping the governorship Republican could be crucial.
Fox News' James Rosen and the Associated Press contributed to this report.