The tempestuous chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, this week accused the White House of acting in bad faith on welfare reform and threatened that "I might just hold health care hostage" as a result.

But reached at home late Friday night, Moynihan said he didn't really mean it, not all of it anyway.Speaking at an editorial board meeting at The New York Post, Moynihan accused the White House of using welfare reform to appease the public "whenever he gets in trouble." At the same time, he said, the president is "appointing people who have no intention of doing it."

His remarks, quoted in Friday's New York Post, went unnoticed until late Friday, when word suddenly began sweeping the offices of the administration's welfare officials.

Reached at home Friday evening he sounded a much more conciliatory note. He said he didn't really mean the part about blocking a health-care bill, and was using the threat merely to get the White House's attention.

White House officials, asked to respond, chose their words carefully. "President Clinton's very serious about welfare reform and he's looking forward to Senator Moynihan's leadership," said Bruce Reed, a co-chairman of the administration task force which is drafting a welfare proposal.

Moynihan, D-N.Y., once again said that many of the president's aides are ideologically opposed to a welfare bill. "Does it take a year to produce a bill?" he said. "No, it doesn't." The resistance, he said, is within the administration.

After a year in office, Clinton has still not specified what he has in mind or forwarded a proposal to Congress.

At a Cabinet meeting on Monday, Clinton said he was likely to delay action on a welfare bill until his health-care proposals clear Congress. Both bills would travel through the same congressional committees and the president told his aides the White House would find it difficult to handle both issues simultaneously.

Moynihan disagrees. "We can do both these things," he said.