WASHINGTON, March 5 — Advocates for low-income people rallied here today against President Bush's proposals to overhaul the 1996 welfare law. Emotions ran so high at an afternoon demonstration on the Mall that some advocates tried to shout down Representative Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of Harlem, who is usually considered an ally.
Mr. Rangel was chastising Congress for "trying to eliminate its obligations to the poor" when he was interrupted by chants of "Answer the questions!" The protesters wanted Mr. Rangel to meet with them in New York and to support more flexibility for education and training.
"Let me tell you this," Mr. Rangel said, clearly irritated. "We have 435 members of the Congress. You only have one that's here right now."
He added, "If you will listen, what I'm saying is yes, that we have to educate, and yes, the fact that I'm here shows that I'm available, and the fact that I respect you is why I'm here, and I don't expect any less from you for me."
The exchange came in a day filled with impassioned rhetoric, as the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support, a coalition of low- income community advocacy groups like Acorn, brought an estimated 1,500 protesters to Washington — about a third from New York — and tried to reshape the terms of the political debate on welfare policy.
After a news conference and rally, many of the advocates headed to smaller demonstrations at the Department of Health and Human Services and two research groups that are influential in pushing welfare restructuring — the conservative Heritage Foundation and the Democratic Leadership Council.
"Most of the crowd are people living with the reality of fairly extreme poverty in their own lives, and they are rightly angry," said Deepak Bhargava, director of the coalition. Throughout the day, speakers asserted that the Bush proposal — and others circulating on Capitol Hill — failed to provide enough money or allow enough time for education and training; lacked adequate financing for child care; and imposed unreasonable work requirements on welfare recipients that would push them into low-wage, dead-end jobs. The proposals' continued restrictions on aid to immigrants also drew fire.
"This is not compassionate conservatism," said Maude Hurd, a leader of Acorn, formerly known as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. "Let's call it what it is — an attack on poor families with children in America."
The group heard expressions of support from religious leaders, including the National Council of Churches, and from the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the National Urban League and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Democratic majority leader, issued a careful statement that praised the progress on welfare made since 1996 but also argued: "As we demand responsibility, we need to provide greater opportunity. I have real concerns that the president's welfare proposals don't do enough to provide that opportunity." He cited insufficient money for child care, inadequate flexibility for the states and the immigrant restrictions as examples.
Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told advocates today that reducing poverty should be a major goal of the bill and that he would consider giving states financial incentives to do so.
Still, Mr. Bush has started the bidding for the welfare legislation, which must renew the 1996 law this year, by insisting on strict new work requirements — mandating that states have 70 percent of their caseload working by 2007, up from about 30 percent now.
He would also revise the definition of the workweek, increasing it to 40 hours from 30.
Mr. Rangel, after his remarks today, said he thought the edge in the crowd reflected simple frustration. "You have to allow people the opportunity to ventilate their feelings," he said. "If you don't do that, you have a much more serious problem."
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company