With the deciding vote cast by House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the House on Thursday approved a District of Columbia spending bill that gives poor children federal subsidies for private school tuition.
The bill passed 203-202 after quick scrambling by Republicans to get some people to change votes and return from their offices. The bill sets up a potential fight with President Clinton, who staunchly opposes using federal tax money for such aid.
The $7 million in tuition subsidies - called scholarships by advocates - would go to 2,000 pupils from poor families in the District of Columbia. The measure is part of an $827.5 million spending bill for the nation’s capital in 1998.
Gingrich stretched the normal 15-minute time allotted for a roll call well beyond half an hour. The speaker normally does not vote.
Some Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the $827.5 million spending bill. Even Democrats who supported vouchers voted with their party against the bill.
The bill must be reconciled with the Senate-passed version. The Senate deleted the school subsidies after a narrow procedural vote. Earlier, the House rejected, 212-197, an effort to substitute the Senate bill for the House one.
Clinton’s advisers have urged him to veto any House-Senate compromise if it contains the vouchers.
“Establishing a private school voucher system in the nation’s capital would set a dangerous precedent for using federal taxpayer funds for schools that are not accountable to the public,” the White House Office of Management and Budget said.
House Republican leaders have made the D.C. voucher plan a keystone of their broader educational agenda.
“If this works and this succeeds and these kids have a decent future, then the failures and the bankruptcies of the (teacher) unions and the bureaucracies will be proven,” Gingrich said.