Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, found himself in the unusual position Wednesday as one of only two Republicans on the Senate Labor Committee fighting by the side of Democrats for a compromise child-care bill.
"In Utah," Hatch said, "54 percent of the women work. We need a child- care bill - and it's time we get on with it."The committee, on which Hatch is the ranking Republican, voted 11-5 to pass favorably the "Act for Better Child Care" (or ABC bill) proposed by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn.
It would authorize $2.5 billion to help families find and afford child care, and would establish minimum federal standards for participating child-care sites - which has been opposed by many Republicans.
That bill is one of three under consideration for improving child care. The other two - one long-proposed by Hatch and one just being introduced by the Bush administration - would both try to provide child-care assistance through a credit on income tax available even to families where one parent stays home.
Hatch voted for the ABC bill Wednesday because he agreed earlier this year to co-sponsor it in exchange for a variety of amendments and for Democrats' pledge to also support his income tax credit bill for child care.
Hatch and Dodd said they now view their two bills as complementing each other, and that each is a needed part of the overall solution to child care. In past years, they were viewed as one-or-the-other options - and still may be by some Republicans, according to committee debate.
Committee Republicans - except Hatch - asked that consideration of the ABC bill be delayed until President Bush's tax credit proposal can be reviewed. It was expected to be delivered late Wednesday.
But Hatch and the Democrats said that wasn't necessary because both Bush's and Hatch's tax credit bills will be reviewed by another committee - the Finance Committee - because they deal with changes in the tax code. However, Hatch and Dodd said the various proposals may all later be joined on the Senate floor.
Other Republicans then objected to the $2.5 billion cost of the bill; objected to the federal government setting child-care standards for participating centers instead of the states; and expressed worry that such standards could hinder child care by churches or relatives.
Hatch said he also opposed setting of federal standards, but felt enough compromise had been made that he could support the bill. Dodd noted that only child-care centers choosing to participate in federal programs would be required to meet minimum standards - others could provide care but would not receive federal funding.
Also, the federal funding is open to anyone who meets the minimum standards - including churches and any adult older than 18.