WASHINGTON -- A divided House approved Republican welfare legislation Thursday that would press more single mothers to work and provide hundreds of millions of dollars to promote marriage and sexual abstinence.
The 229-197 vote, along party lines, came after a partisan House debate over changes to the 1996 welfare overhaul.
Democrats were now looking to the Senate, where they hoped to get more money for child care, education and training. They also want to restore benefits for legal immigrants, cut from aid programs in 1996.
In the six years since that landmark bill became law, tough new rules and a roaring economy combined to cut the rolls by more than half. Most people who have left welfare are working, making more than they got from welfare but not enough to escape poverty.
As Congress renews the program, the question is how to help those who remain on welfare, many with health and other problems, and how to help those who move upward on the economic ladder.
Throughout the debate, House Republicans reminded Democrats of their dire predictions in 1996 and declared themselves vindicated.
They said the law can be improved if states are pressed to put more people to work.
Under the GOP bill, states would have to have 70 percent of people on welfare working 40 hours a week by 2007.
"We believe in the human spirit so strongly," said Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fla., a prime author of the 1996 law. "If we raise that level of expectation, they will rise to meet it."