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WASHINGTON _ The House passed a welfare reform bill Thursday that would force recipients to work more hours to obtain assistance while providing millions of dollars to promote marriage and sexual abstinence.
The 229-197 vote, mostly along party lines, gave President Bush an important first victory in his bid to strengthen the 1996 law that expires this year, but seemed certain to touch off a major political battle in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The measure would extend the workweek of welfare recipients from 30 to 40 hours, though 16 of those hours could be spent on education, training or other "work activities." In five years, states would have to ensure 70 percent of their welfare clients are working, up from 50 percent.
In addition, the bill would continue a ban on welfare assistance for legal immigrants during the first …