In a direct challenge to President Clinton, the House voted Tuesday to pay for military operations in Bosnia and the Persian Gulf as well as domestic disaster assistance by cutting $2.9 billion from housing for the poor and other favorite White House programs.
The White House, speaking on Clinton’s behalf, threatened to veto any legislation that included the House budget cuts.
“We should be able to provide disaster assistance to communities here at home and support for our troops overseas without (compensating cuts),” said a White House policy statement. “We urge you to avoid actions that will result in gridlock that will be detrimental to our troops abroad and to our citizens at home in time of need.”
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said administration officials told him they would recommend a veto if the House version emerges from Congress.
The bill’s supporters insisted they would not vote for legislation that causes a net increase in federal spending. “This bill sends the unmistakable message that the House is opposed to added spending without offsets,” said Rep. David McIntosh, R-Ind.
But the close vote, 212-208, means House leaders might have difficulty defending the bill when negotiators attempt to reconcile it with a very different proposal from the Senate.
The Senate’s version, which carries a $5.3 billion price tag, more closely reflects the administration’s priorities.
The House’s dispute with the president centers on the Republicans’ insistence that the military operations and disaster aid be paid for with domestic spending cuts.
The size and targets of the cuts narrowed the margin of victory. Some 17 Republicans - mostly moderates - abandoned the leadership after contending that the offsets slashed too deeply into important domestic programs.
Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., for one, complained that some nondefense programs were sacrificed to prevent any cutbacks in defense - in violation of budget rules and a sense of fairness.
The House bill cuts housing subsidies by $2.2 billion; airport projects by $366 million; and AmeriCorps, one of Clinton’s most prominent domestic initiatives, by $250 million. It also reduces spending for bilingual education by $75 million.
It provides $1.3 billion for Persian Gulf operations, $487 million for Bosnia peacekeeping, and $575 million for disaster loans and grants. It does not include $1.6 billion in additional disaster funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency proposed by the Senate.
Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., contended that the House bill’s 60 percent cut in AmeriCorps spending was “a blatant political slap in the president’s face” and would lead to the program’s demise.
Other critics said the cutbacks in housing money could affect some 800,000 low-income tenants. And Hispanic members complained that the cut in bilingual education could deny language assistance to 80,000 children.
“Over the last few years,” complained Rep. Tony Hall, D-Ohio, “Congress always seems to be finding cuts against the most needy people in this country.”