Over Democratic objections, the Senate passed a $62 billion spending bill Wednesday that would slash money for environmental protection, housing programs and veterans’ benefits.
Democrats, who said in advance that they lacked the votes to make substantial changes in the bill, urged President Clinton to veto it. The House previously approved equal or deeper spending cuts, so those differences must still be resolved.
The Senate approved the legislation 55-45 after Republicans rebuffed Democratic attempts to restore funds for environmental cleanup of toxic dumps, help for the homeless, health programs for veterans and a cherished Clinton national service program.
The legislation is the first of three broad domestic spending bills being considered by the Senate this week. Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle, D-S.D., called the bills “extremism on parade” and said the only recourse was to urge a presidential veto.
“There’s no point in trying to fine-tune this mess,” declared Daschle.
The Senate bill would cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by one-fourth to $5.6 billion, including a $430 million slash in its Superfund program for toxic waste cleanup. Clinton had sought an increase to $7.3 billion.
It also would cut housing programs by $5 billion, one-fifth of current spending, eliminate Clinton’s Americorps national service initiative and reduce veterans’ programs by $395 million.
Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska was the lone Democrat to join the Republicans in passing the bill.
Republicans defended the spending reductions as part of a broader campaign to reduce the federal deficit.
“It sets priorities in very tough times,” said Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., the bill’s floor leader. “We’ve done as good a job as possible within the dollars available.”
But Democrats said the priorities were wrong and that many of the cuts would finance tax reductions for the wealthy.
Federal low-income housing programs were particularly hard hit.
Overall spending on housing would be cut by $5 billion to $20.4 billion. That would be 20 percent below current spending, and 16 percent less than Clinton had requested. Public housing construction funds would be reduced by $1.6 billion and senators approved new restrictions on housing programs that critics said may lead to rent increases for poor tenants.