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The Governors' Mediation

THE Medicaid and welfare plans put forward by the National Governors Association (NGA) should open the way for successful compromise between Congress and the White House. But that happy outcome is by no means assured.

On Medicaid, the governors split the difference by maintaining a guarantee of coverage for most of the millions of poorer Americans who currently use the program; this in accord with Clinton administration desires. Their plan also gives the states much greater leeway to decide the breadth and extent of services under Medicaid - a clear bow to congressional Republicans, and to the governors' own predilections.

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Advocates for the poor worry that the governors are simply positioning themselves to squeeze people off the Medicaid rolls. Conservatives, on the other hand, will doubtless complain about considerably lower levels of savings in this plan versus the GOP scheme already vetoed by Mr. Clinton.

The NGA's welfare proposal similarly raises hackles. It placates administration critics by adding $4 billion to the $18 billion for child care already in pending legislation. And it keeps intact the federal food-stamps entitlement. On the other hand, the plan meshes with Republicans' desires to free states from federal waivers and other restrictions on how they reshape their welfare programs.

A central question is whether states would use their broadened discretion under this plan, or some future bill based on it, responsibly. Experience in states heavily involved in welfare reform gives hope that they will. Compassion and fairness are core American values; they aren't limited to Washington.

Both the right and the left have started taking shots at the governors' proposals - and they, like other reform efforts in these complex realms, certainly have their flaws. But the balance of criticism, in itself, is a pretty good indication that these blueprints for compromise are centrist in today's political context. They present an opportunity that neither the president nor Congress should miss.

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