House GOP Pushes Cuts in Housing, Social Programs Toward OK
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republican leaders quelled an uprising over abortion Wednesday and muscled $17 billion in cuts in housing aid, school improvements and other programs toward House passage.
By a near party-line 242-190 vote, the package cleared a procedural hurdle and began a testy journey toward likely passage Thursday. The Senate is expected to produce its own collection of spending slashes soon.
The measure marks the Republican majority’s initial attempt to push cuts through the House that would begin fulfilling their ``Contract With America″ pledge to eliminate the federal deficit. The reductions would be in funds already enacted into law, and would be the biggest such package ever approved.
The debate was peppered with moans from lawmakers of both parties over the measure’s cuts in job training and other initiatives. In one vote, $206 million cut from popular veterans’ programs was restored and the money instead chopped from President Clinton’s community service program. In another, conservative Republicans lost an attempt to turn the bill’s cuts in federal aid to public broadcasting to an all-out elimination of the assistance over three years.
There were stinging partisan broadsides as well.
``Morally wrong″ and ``mean-spirited,″ Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., said of the reductions in programs to the poor.
``The same old Chicken Little-ism, the sky is falling, liberals are out of power and what are we going to do, beat our chests and talk about the poor and elderly,″ was how House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston, R-La., described Democratic arguments.
The stakes were huge for Republicans. They were out to prove that having promised to balance the budget by the year 2002, which will take $1 trillion in spending slashes over seven years, they could deliver a far smaller package. They also needed to rally from this month’s Senate defeat of the balanced-budget amendment.
``The thorny question still remains: Will Congress ever cut federal spending?″ said Livingston. ``Even if we don’t change the Constitution, there’s still only one avenue open to us. It’s the old-fashioned way. It’s simply to sit down and get the job done and take the first step.″
But that wasn’t good enough for Democrats, who knew that the measure contained cuts in national service, technological research and some of Clinton’s favorite programs.
They also pointed to reductions for public housing, summer youth jobs, education and food aid for women and children and accused the GOP of picking on the most vulnerable Americans.
``I don’t call those tough choices,″ said Rep. Ronald Coleman, D-Texas. ``I call that kind of a chicken way out.″
Despite the bill’s consequence to Republicans, party leaders experienced some nervous moments as they struggled to line up votes.
Conservatives threatened to desert the measure early Wednesday after GOP leaders yanked language that would have imposed stricter prohibitions on the use of Medicaid funds for abortions. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., pulled those restrictions to retain moderate Republican support for the overall bill. To keep the conservatives on board, he promised them votes on their abortion language later this year.
A parade of lawmakers also planned efforts to try to restore some of the bill’s cuts in job training, health and other programs.
Besides its cuts, the bill also contained $5.4 billion in aid for 40 states that have recently been hit by natural disasters. Most of the money would go to California to help repair buildings wrecked by last year’s Northridge earthquake.
But that assistance, requested by Clinton, was barely mentioned on the House floor.
Instead, the focus was on the cuts and the motivations behind them.
Democrats accused Republicans of using the reductions to finance their $189 billion tax bill, which would lower levies for many Americans earning up to $200,000 yearly and for many companies.
The GOP said the money would be used to reduce the deficit. Rather than hurting the needy, Republicans said, their goal was to trim and eliminate wasteful, dated programs like home-heating aid for the poor, which they said is no longer needed because fuel prices have stabilized.
``We’re going to shrink the size and power of this federal government,″ said Rep. Gerald Solomon, R-N.Y.
``My friend from New York will not only shrink the size of government, he’s going to shrink the size of the elderly population once they have no more fuel,″ responded Rep. Joseph Moakley, D-Mass.
The bill also contained a provision allowing lumber companies to remove more timber from federal land, exempt from environmental laws. An effort to delete the language was defeated 275-150.