House Republican leaders Friday predicted approval soon of more than $17.5 billion in spending cuts recommended this week by Appropriations subcommittees but President Clinton warned them that he may use his veto power to stop the legislation.
The reductions, most coming in housing, food and youth programs, would be among the largest single packages of spending cuts in history and would serve as the opening shot in a larger, looming war over deeper cuts to balance the budget by the year 2002.
Republican leaders said that the package of cuts, made in 10 separate Appropriations subcommittee meetings this week, will be considered by the full House Appropriations Committee next week. They predicted swift approval. The cuts should be considered on the House floor in March.
With Democratic leaders unable to stop the GOP cuts--except to decry them as a ploy to aid the rich at the expense of the poor--Clinton issued his warning: "Unless I miss my guess, a bill doesn't become law unless I sign it or it passes over my veto," he said.
And of the GOP hierarchy, he charged: "What they want to do is make war on the kids of this country to pay for the capital gains tax cut. That's what's going on."
But House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and other Republican leaders insisted that Democrats are missing the point. They argued that the cuts, while indeed painful, are needed if Congress hopes to draw down the federal deficit.
"Some of them are going to be tough," Gingrich said of the cuts. "It's not easy. I know people personally who are affected. . . . But what's at stake here is whether the American people win or politics as usual in Washington wins."
And like the President, Gingrich took a shot at his political opponents. "The kind of tactics you're seeing," he said, "are the desperate last stand of the Old Guard bitterly trying to defend a system that's dying. And the system's dying because it isn't working."
In grueling and sometimes late-night meetings, House Republicans voted to slash everything from child nutrition and housing programs to projects that provide heating assistance to the elderly and summer jobs for youths. A House subcommittee capped the round of proposed reductions Friday by identifying $20.9 million in cuts from the General Accounting Office and other congressional agencies.
The future remains unsure for many government agencies, like the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which would be gutted of many of its housing-assistance programs.
"Today, HUD is literally fighting for its life," Secretary Henry G. Cisneros told the House Budget Committee on Friday.
But Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands), who as chairman of one of the Appropriations subcommittees identified many of the housing cuts, discounted Cisneros' comments as scare tactics.
"Both HUD and the neediest people in our country would be far better served," Lewis said, "if Secretary Cisneros spent as much time addressing the very real and troubling problems within his own agency as he is now spending attempting to scare people."
Outside on the Capitol lawn, a group of eight House Democrats and one Independent stood in a chilly wind and accused the Republicans of tramping on the poor and middle class to make room in the budget for future tax cuts that would benefit those who are better off.
"They've gone after food and nutrition programs and heating programs. Now they're attacking another fundamental human need--shelter," said Rep. Joseph Kennedy of Massachusetts. "It's a good thing we don't subsidize clothing or a lot of us would be walking around half-naked."
Added Rep. Bernard Sanders, an Independent from Vermont: "This is class warfare. The rich get richer and the working people and the poor are going to get socked."