After debate was deferred once–and then again–Congress is finally slated to vote on its huge welfare package this spring. But Washington insiders say it’s beginning to look like there won’t be much debate after all.

In late December, Congress extended 1996’s landmark reform until the end of March. Assuming it sticks with last summer’s proposals from the White House and House of Representatives, the Republican Congress will then look to hike the number of hours that recipients are required to work, from 30 to 40 hours a week. Plus, it could increase the proportion of a state’s caseload that has to meet those work requirements from 50 percent to 70 percent. Also on the table are several hundred million dollars for programs that promote marriage and a proposal to allow states to seek waivers for most federal rules, a.k.a. the “superwaiver.”

Many congressional Democrats and some Republicans fought these proposals last summer, but sources say that this spring, the White House plans on reauthorizing welfare as part of the fiscal 2004 budget package, which would limit debate. “There are pretty strict rules of what kinds of amendments can go with a budget reconciliation process,” said Jacqueline Payne, a policy attorney with the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund. “It’s much easier to push the agenda that you want if you use this process.”