Senate Republicans distanced themselves from their more conservative House brethren Wednesday as a panel voted to ease cuts in social programs and erase abortion restrictions the House has approved.
“This is cutting through ideology to pragmatism,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., after the Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee he chairs approved a $62.8 billion measure financing education, health and labor programs for next year.
While Specter, the moderate GOP presidential hopeful, smoothed some of the House bill’s harder edges, his measure still drew a fusillade of criticism from the administration and most Democrats. Resorting to oft-repeated criticism, they said Republicans would use the bill’s slashes in education, job training and health programs to pay for tax cuts for the rich. The measure would provide $4.3 billion less for the programs than they are getting this year, and $9.2 billion less than President Clinton sought.
The bill has been the most contentious of the 13 annual spending bills that must be enacted by Oct. 1, the start of fiscal 1996, to keep the government functioning. So far, none of the bills has reached Clinton’s desk, and eight have caught veto threats.
Specter’s subcommittee approved his bill on a voice vote after the panel’s senior Democrat, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, praised him for doing the best he could with a “grossly inadequate” pot of money.
But when the measure is debated Friday by the full Appropriations Committee, it is likely to be challenged from the left and right.
Specter’s education-labor-health bill would eliminate nearly 20 House-approved provisions, including those letting states refuse to use Medicaid to finance abortions for poor women, forbidding organizations from lobbying if they receive federal grants, and blocking Clinton from halting government business with companies that hire strikebreakers.
The bill would provide $1.7 billion for a variety of youth job-training programs, $947 million less than Clinton wants but $185 million more than the House passed. It includes $1 billion for utility assistance for the poor, a program the House would eliminate; Clinton had requested $1.3 billion.