Throwing a wrench in the engine of the House GOP's "contract with America," Senate appropriators moved to restore funding for several key programs affecting the poor Friday as they approved a $13.2-billion package of spending cuts to help reduce the deficit and offset the costs of disaster relief for California.
About $4 billion lighter than the $17.1 billion in cuts that passed the House last week, the Senate's version of the "rescissions" bill sailed through the Appropriations Committee with surprisingly little of the bitter partisan acrimony that characterized its counterpart's tempestuous journey through the House.
The 27-1 vote by which the committee voted to send the package to the Senate floor in part reflected a decision by Republican senators to soften some of the cuts that their House counterparts aimed at the poor. The Senate bill, for instance, restores a $1.3-billion federal subsidy to help low-income people heat their homes in winter and grants a stay of execution for the federal government's summer jobs for youths program for at least another year.
Deep cuts that House Republicans made in President Clinton's national service program and in funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting also were partially reversed by the Senate panel, whose 13 Democrats had earlier agreed not to oppose the package in committee.
But the bill still made deep cuts in traditional Democratic spending priorities to help the poor and clean up the environment. It faces rougher sailing on the Senate floor, where many of the Democrats said they will try to amend it when it comes up for consideration next week. Markedly different from the House bill, the Senate's version also underscored the differences that are beginning to emerge within the Republican majorities in the two chambers over the devilish details of deficit reduction.
House Republicans, for instance, have indicated that they still hope to use some of the savings that the bill would produce to offset their proposed $189-billion package of tax cuts. But Senate Republicans made it clear that, after disaster relief is paid for, they want any surplus savings to go exclusively toward reducing the budget deficit.
"We absolutely must reduce federal spending. That is a commitment I believe we all share," said committee Chairman Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.).
Despite their opposition to many of the specific program cuts, Democrats were also largely in agreement on the need to reduce the deficit. Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) predicted that, in the end, many of them would support the package on the Senate floor.
The Senate bill would strip $5.4 billion from already appropriated but still unspent funding in other areas to pay for $5.4 billion in disaster relief--most of it for California. The remaining $7.8 billion in savings would be used for what several senators described as the "first tiny nudge" toward putting the country on a "glide path" toward a balanced budget by the year 2002.
It was not clear, however, if Clinton will accept the package even if the Senate's version prevails in what is expected to be a contentious round of negotiations with the House.
While conceding that the Senate bill was an improvement over the $17.1-billion package narrowly passed by the House, White House spokesman Mike McCurry said that Clinton was still upset that the brunt of the cuts would fall on programs for the poor. "These are still cuts in all the wrong places," he said, noting that Clinton had threatened to veto the version passed by the House.
As in the House bill, most of the cuts proposed by the Senate committee would come out of social programs run by the departments of Education, Labor and Housing and Urban Development, as well as environmental mandates enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency.
However, where the House would cut more than $7 billion from federal housing programs, the Senate would eliminate just under $5 billion. Existing subsidies for home heating fuel and a $186-million program to provide housing to AIDS sufferers, both gutted by the House, would be preserved.
The Senate panel also restored nearly half of the $1.6 billion that House Republicans seek to cut from education programs--retaining, for instance, all but $10 million of the $187.5 million that the House voted to slash from student aid programs and all but $3 million from the $26.7 million cut from the public libraries.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would see about $56 million cut from its annual appropriation of $300 million under the Senate bill, versus cuts of $141 million under the House version.
The jobs for youth program, which provides about 600,000 summertime jobs for low-income youths, would remain fully funded for 1995 under the Senate bill, but be dropped in 1996. The House version would eliminate the program immediately. And, in what appeared to be a concession to Democrats, the GOP senators also agreed to restore nearly half of the $416 million that the House cut from Clinton's signature national service program.
But the Senate bill retained most of the cuts that the House Republicans proposed for the enforcement of environmental regulations, as well as language prohibiting the EPA to enforce air pollution standards by mandating car-pooling.