House Republicans began their promised assault on the federal budget in earnest Thursday by approving $17.1 billion in cuts to current domestic spending and recommending another $100 billion they want to slash over the next five years.
The House voted 227-200, largely along party lines, to approve $17.1 billion in cuts to the budget already approved for this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The package drew an immediate threat of veto from the White House, with President Clinton complaining it “cut too much people and not enough pork.”
The House Budget Committee voted Thursday to recommend a list of $100 billion in future reductions, saving money through steps as diverse as replacing paper dollars with coins, privatizing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, cutting National Institutes of Health research funding and phasing out the Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal assistance to the poor.
And the committee also suggested saving another $91 billion by lowering the amount that certain government programs are allowed to grow each year.
“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” said Budget Committee Chairman John R. Kasich, R-Ohio, who pledged that Republicans will come up with even more cuts in May. Together, the targeted reductions began a long march toward the Republican goal of balancing the federal budget by the year 2002, Kasich said.
The Republican euphoria was marred Thursday, however, as GOP lawmakers tangled among themselves and with Democrats over whether the $17.1 billion in savings from the current budget would go to reduce the deficit or pay for a tax cut.
All parties agreed that the first $5.5 billion of savings was to pay for federal assistance that helped 40 states recover from recent natural disasters.
But as the vote neared, confusion reigned over how the use of the other $11.6 billion in savings. The House had overwhelmingly approved an amendment Wednesday that Democrats and some Republicans thought ensured the money would be dedicated to deficit reduction.
An hour before the floor vote, however, Kasich announced in his committee that most of the money would be used to help pay for Republican-sponsored tax cuts over the next five years. As the floor vote approached, Rep. David R. Obey shouted that Republicans had “lied in order to pass a bill.”
The uncertainty cost the support of at least a dozen fiscally conservative Democrats who had been expected to vote for the bill. Only six Democrats voted for the measure.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where its prospects are uncertain. It would reduce funding for an array of federal programs, including assisted housing, home heating aid, youth summer jobs and Clinton’s national service initiative. The initiative, known as AmeriCorps, would lose $416 million over the next two years, all but ending a program that received $370 million last year.
Also hit hard was the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which lost about $141 million over the next two years - half of what it is receiving from the government this year.
The national endowments for the arts and for the humanities were each cut $5 million, although Democrats defeated an amendment Thursday that would have taken another $10 million from the $168 million arts endowment.
White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta said the president would not hesitate to kill the bill when it reaches his desk. “There’s no question that if that bill in its present form as it passed the House came here that the president, in fact, would veto it,” Panetta said.
xxxx MAJOR CUTS Major spending cuts and slowdowns approved by the House on Thursday. Nearly all the cuts would come from spending that had already been approved for 1995: Housing programs for the poor and elderly: $7.2 billion. Job-training and employment services: $2.3 billion. This includes termination of the summer jobs program for youth, which was expected to cost some $1.7 billion in 1995 and 1996. Low-income heating and energy-assistance program for the poor: $1.3 billion, which is the entire amount authorized for this program. Safe drinking-water fund: $1.3 billion. School improvement programs: $746 million. AmeriCorps volunteer service program: $405 million. Federal highway emergency construction: $351 million. Vocational and adult education: $232 million. Foreign aid: $148 million. Public broadcasting: $141 million (1995 and 1996). Higher education assistance: $102 million. Drug courts for non-violent drug abusers as an alternative to imprisonment: $28 million. Women, Infants and Children food program: $25 million.