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Gingrich: More Welfare Reform On GOP Agenda

Gingrich

ALPHARETTA, Georgia (AllPolitics, August 2) -- House Speaker Newt Gingrich says Republicans plan to make a major push this fall to implement welfare-reform measures that President Bill Clinton refused to accept as part of the recently completed balanced-budget deal.

In interviews given Saturday while Gingrich was attending an American Legion parade in his suburban Atlanta district, the speaker also said he favors equalizing penalties for people caught selling crack and powder cocaine -- but not by reducing crack penalties as the Clinton administration has proposed.

Rather, he indicated he might support increasing the penalties for powder cocaine offenders.

"I favor equalizing them, but I'm not sure I'm not for equalizing them up," Gingrich said. "A person who commits the same relative threat to society -- the same number of doses -- should face the same consequences."

Gingrich

Critics say current sentencing laws are unfair to those who handle crack, which is cheaper than powder and more likely to be used by members of racial minorities.

Attorney General Janet Reno and President Clinton's drug-policy adviser, Barry McCaffrey, have proposed reducing the sentencing disparity for the two forms of cocaine to a 10-1 ratio.

Their plan would impose mandatory five-year penalties for selling 25 grams of crack or 10 times as much powdered cocaine, 250 grams. Current law requires five-year sentences for the sale of 5 grams of crack or 500 grams of cocaine, a 100-1 ratio.

Exemption for those in welfare-to-work programs

Gingrich said that when Republicans return in the fall, they will take up a proposal to exempt individuals in welfare-to-work programs from the $5.15-an-hour minimum wage.

That exemption is a major priority of Republican and even some Democratic governors. But GOP negotiators dropped the idea from the recent budget bill because of opposition from Clinton, promoting complaints from GOP governors.

"There will be a very big push on welfare reform," Gingrich said. "We did not fight it out on the budget agreement, but we are going to really ask all the governors in the country to work with us to pass a welfare-reform implementation act which we think the president has to sign."

"The bureaucrats and the unions are trying to destroy welfare reform. We cannot allow that to happen."

'We are moving in the right direction'

Also, Gingrich said he would prefer that President Clinton not use the line-item veto on any provisions of the balanced-budget agreement. He said the Clinton team did not raise that prospect during negotiations, so "I think it would be helpful for them not to exercise it."

"But I am not going to get into a fight about it. This is his right. We gave it to him deliberately."

Just two weeks after a small group of restless Republicans tried to topple him, Gingrich said House Republicans are now unified.

"For our team, there are sometimes frustrations, but we are moving in the right direction and that is good."

Asked to assess the political lessons of the past month, he said, "If you are patient and you work hard, you win."

CNN White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report.




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