Clinton Signs Social Program Cuts Gop Launches New Attacks On Ecology, Housing Funds
President Clinton signed $16.3 billion in social-program cuts Thursday in a compromise with Congress, and won another victory as the House overwhelmingly voted to protect the administration-backed space station from elimination.
But in a day of mixed budget messages, representatives also neared approval of new slashes in housing and environmental efforts that steered the two sides back to a collision course.
Seven weeks after vetoing an earlier version as too harsh, Clinton put his pen to a bill trimming scores of ongoing education, job training and other programs. The bill also contains $7.2 billion for California and other states that have been hit by recent natural disasters, anti-terrorism efforts and debt relief for Jordan.
Republicans launched the effort to make cuts in already-approved spending five months ago as a first step in their balanced-budget drive. But stalemate reigned until lawmakers restored $733 million for school reforms and other administration priorities. Congress finally sent the president the bill last week.
“We agree we should balance the budget; we disagree on how,” the president said as he signed the measure at the White House. “But this shows that we can work through those disagreements.”
No sooner had he spoken, however, than the House took up a $79.4 billion measure for the coming fiscal year that would shrink housing aid for the poor and elderly and slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by one-third.
The wide-ranging bill would also restrict enforcement of air and water pollution and food safety laws, kill Clinton’s national service program, and reduce spending for NASA, veterans and dozens of other programs. Overall, it would spend $11 billion less than this year and $10.5 billion less than Clinton requested.
“This bill represents the urgent need to put Uncle Sam on a diet,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that wrote the bill.
In a series of votes, the chamber rejected efforts, mostly by Democrats, to restore some of the housing funds. But it demonstrated, however, that its appetite for cuts was selective when it voted 299-126 against a move by Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., to kill the planned space station.
The roll call, more lopsided than in past years, demonstrated widespread support for the manned orbiting laboratory in a chamber dominated by members who say they want to eliminate government frills.
Obey’s amendment would have shifted $1.6 billion of the $2.1 billion for the station next year to veterans, housing, other space programs and for deficit reduction. The remaining $500 million would have been used to shut down the project, which Congress’ General Accounting Office says will cost $94 billion to build and operate through 2012.
Obey and his supporters said the nation could not afford the space station in a time of budget-cutting. But station defenders said the craft was necessary to keep the country’s space program alive, and with it the hope for scientific advances.
There was other spending action, too. House-Senate bargainers reached compromise on a $2.1 billion bill financing Congress itself, an 8 percent reduction. That would be the first of the 13 annual spending bills to be written in its final form, allowing Republicans to claim that they began their campaign to eliminate the federal deficit by tightening their own belts.
In addition, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved two other bills.
One was a $23 billion measure financing the Treasury and Postal Service that kills the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy but spares the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, which the House voted to kill. The other would provide $20 billion for energy and water projects.
The White House has already threatened to veto the legislation financing the departments of Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, the EPA and NASA because of its cuts and its bridling of environmental laws. On Thursday, House Democrats joined in and sounded a theme they have employed often this year for GOP priorities: Republicans are cutting too deeply into programs for the vulnerable.