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Conservative Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, looked out of place Tuesday in a press conference surrounded by Congress' most liberal Democrats and leaders of the nation's largest labor unions.

But Hatch was merely continuing to fight by the side of such unusual allies on a drive that began earlier this year to pass a comprehensive child-care act.He, the Democrats and labor leaders urged the House to pass on Wednesday the child-care provisions contained in a budget reconciliation bill and to reject alternative amendments proposed by House Republicans and one by Rep. Charles W. Stenholm, D-Texas.

The House reconciliation provisions would be similar to the Senate's Act for Better Child Care, which the Senate passed June 23. Hatch was only one of two Republicans to vote for that bill - which riled conservative groups so much they called him a Benedict Arnold.

Hatch, who in previous years was the leading opponent of the ABC bill, decided to back it this year after liberal Democrats included a tax break he wanted to help families afford to have one parent stay home and eliminated mandatory care requirements that could have prevented child care by grandparents, churches and others.

Liberal Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said Tuesday, "If I've done nothing else with this bill, at least I've brought Orrin Hatch and (liberal Rep.) Pat Schroeder, D-Colo., together." Schroeder flashed a smile at Hatch, who laughed while he sat by the side of liberal Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

Hatch said, "It may seem odd that I am here this morning with so many distinguished Democrats to voice my concern for child care. But this is one area where I don't think there's any disagreement that there needs to be a federal participation to resolve this problem."

He called lack of child care a "national family crisis" and said federal help is needed to ensure better availability, affordability and quality.

"If there is only a tax component (to allow greater tax breaks for child-care costs, which House Republicans and President Bush are proposing), it may help a little bit to alleviate some of the problems of affordability - but it would do virtually nothing for availability and quality," Hatch said.

"The only way we can solve these problems is with a comprehensive bill."

Hatch added that 50 percent of the labor force by the year 2000 will be women and two-thirds of them will be single heads of household or women married to men earning less than $15,000 a year with 5 million to 15 million latch-key children - showing they will need more child care.

Kennedy called the passage of ABC provision by the House and Senate "a small down payment" to solve the problem.