OCTOBER 20, 23:18 EDT

Gore Plans Deadbeat Dad Crackdown
Associated Press Writer

Gore and 2-year-old Meika Thomas of Baltimore
AP/Dennis Cook

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Al Gore urged fathers on Wednesday to ``step up to their responsibilities'' and pay child support or risk losing welfare benefits or damaging their credit ratings.

If they are unable to pay, the Democratic presidential candidate said he would seek to expand welfare programs to help them find and keep work.

``Way too many children are living without the influence of their fathers,'' Gore said at the Congress Heights United Methodist Church. ``There are too many mothers who are struggling because of fathers who will not step up to their responsibilities.''

Children and mothers are not the only ones who can benefit from increased paternal involvement, he said.

``Outside of a genuine religious experience, there is hardly anything that is more transforming in the life of a man than getting involved with his children,'' Gore said. ``It can change his life.''

Gore laid out his ``responsible fatherhood'' package one day before Bill Bradley, his Democratic presidential rival. Bradley travels to New York on Thursday to unveil what his spokesman called ``a comprehensive package to make a major move against child poverty.''

Aides said the vice president's plan also was designed to attack child poverty by remedying two of its biggest causes: financial and emotional abandonment by fathers.

Gore proposed giving federal child-support funds only to states that require all non-custodial parents — mainly fathers — who owe child support to get a job and pay up, or go to jail.

If elected president, Gore said he also would require fathers to sign ``personal responsibility contracts,'' in which they would acknowledge paternity and pledge to work to pay child support, as a condition of getting aid from the Welfare to Work program.

Under Gore's plan, the government would provide credit card companies with data on ``deadbeat dads'' who have not paid child support and urge lenders to deny them new credit cards or line of credit.

Gore also referred to another group he calls ``dead broke dads'' — those who don't pay because they can't afford to — his plan would broaden regulations allowing states to use federal welfare money to help them find and keep jobs.

The 1996 welfare reform law moved millions of families off welfare, Gore said, but there are still many left behind.

``I want to lead the next generation of welfare reform that will ask fathers to step up to their responsibility,'' Gore said.

Gore also offered measures to help ensure children grow up in two-parent homes, including new grants to community and religious groups to ``help couples prepare for and strengthen their marriage, become better parents and reduce domestic violence.''

The vice president routinely pre-empts Bradley's speeches. Days before the former New Jersey senator unveiled an ambitious and expensive plan last month to provide near-universal health insurance, Gore rushed together a more limited health plan.

Bradley press secretary Eric Hauser said it was a matter of Gore ``agreeing with our agenda'' and lacking his own new ideas. ``The depth and significance of our proposals to solve big problems are far greater than his. That's even more clear given that a significant part of the announcement today are initiatives that the vice president already proposed,'' Hauser said.

Gore spokesman Chris Lehane fired back with a reference to Bradley's vote in the Senate in favor of President Reagan's 1981 spending cuts. ``Al Gore's interest and commitment to strengthening families dates back ... to 1981 when he stayed and fought against the Reagan budget cuts that devastated programs for working families and the poor,'' he said.

Gore reached out Wednesday to key primary states even while campaigning in Washington. He made calls to reporters in New York in which he criticized Texas Gov. George W. Bush's environmental record. In the key state of California, a new Field Poll showed Gore maintaining a wide lead over Bradley among likely Democratic voters, 45 percent to 17 percent. That was about the same as his 51 percent to 18 percent advantage in the same poll in August, given the error margin of plus or minus 6.5 percentage points.

Gore also spoke Wednesday with reporters in Iowa, saying an increasingly competitive race with Bradley wouldn't force him out of the political center.

``It's not going to cause me to change my views,'' Gore said.

He also assailed the Republican-controlled Congress during remarks at a fund-raiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which raised $1.5 million.

``They are not worthy to run the Senate. They are an embarrassment to the United States,'' Gore told about 1,200 party faithful. ``They are headed in the wrong direction — completely — on every issue.''

The vice president also crowed when he introduced Miss America Heather Renee French and announced that she had switched her voter registration from Republican to Democrat on Wednesday.

Copyright 1999 Associated Press. All rights reserved.