Though toughening the law has bipartisan support in Washington, cash-strapped states are less sanguine. The Senate committee's bill includes about $1 billion to help struggling states pay for child care, but that could be as much as $500 million short of what they need, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Twenty-three states have backlogs of parents who qualify for child-care funds but can't get them, according to a General Accounting Office report.
As Governor of Texas, Bush worked extensively on welfare reform, and he champions the idea that making the program stricter will help the poor. Democrats racked up points in the '90s by embracing President Clinton's call to "end welfare as we know it." In February, the House passed a bill that was more austere than the Senate committee's version. But both parties are in a bit of a bind. Republicans don't want to come across as Scrooges, and Democrats don't want to look as if they are soft on welfare a tricky position for both in an election year.