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GOP unveils huge social spending bill

Updated:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Republicans unveiled a $316 billion
measure today financing labor, health and education programs that
is already being attacked by Democrats and the nation's governors.

The legislation -- the biggest spending bill for the upcoming
fiscal year -- proposes more money than President Clinton has
proposed for biomedical research, the Job Corps, and special
education for handicapped students.

But it would kill Clinton's proposal for hiring 100,000 new
teachers and cut job training and the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration.

In addition, as part of the GOP effort to pay for spending bills
without using Social Security funds, the bill would reclaim $3
billion in federal welfare payments the states have not yet spent.

Such proposals make it unsure that the bill could pass the
House, and a virtually certain candidate for a White House veto
threat.

Even so, Rep. John Porter, R-Ill., chief author of the measure,
said it was important to start moving the bill through Congress. To
do so would give lawmakers a starting point for inevitable
negotiations with the administration over the bill's final shape.

Failure to do so, Porter said, would let the White House "sit
at the table and effectively write every line-item of the bill. To
me, that is no choice at all."

Porter is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee
subcommittee that plans to vote on the legislation today.

Congress has sent Clinton just four of the 13 spending bills for
the coming fiscal year, and the White House has threatened vetoes
of six of the measures.

With a certainty that some of the measures will be incomplete by
Oct. 1, GOP leaders said they would send Clinton a stopgap bill
keeping agencies functioning through Oct. 21 at this year's
spending levels. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said
the bill will be as "non-vetoable as possible."

Governors strongly oppose the GOP plan to capture the $3 billion
in welfare funds. The decision to use the money over governors'
objections underlines the tough time Republicans are having paying
for spending measures without tapping into the Social Security
surplus, which they have vowed to protect.

Under the plan, the federal government would reclaim the welfare
money only temporarily, and return it to the states in full for
fiscal 2001, said a GOP official who spoke on condition of
anonymity. The official said the idea was a bookkeeping device to
help Republicans avoid raiding Social Security funds.

Even so, governors' representatives said they strongly opposed
the idea, just as they did when a similar plan was floated several
weeks ago.

"That would be a huge mistake, and we would be very
disappointed in any elected official who did not feel a sense of
commitment once the leadership has given their word," said Clinton
Key, executive director of the Republican Governors' Association.

He and others said governors agreed to the 1996 welfare overhaul
on condition they be allowed to bank unused money for future
economic downturns. Thirty-eight states and the District of
Columbia have a total of $4.2 billion in unspent federal welfare
funds, according to the most recent statistics.

Terrell Halaska, spokeswoman at the National Governors'
Association, said, "As they have done all year, the governors are
opposed to any attempt by Congress to break the deal with the
governors" on welfare.

Congressional Democrats were also critical.

"The Republican leaders apparently think that it's OK to steal
billions of dollars in funding for needy families to get themselves
out of their budget jam," Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said in a
written statement.

The savings would help pay for the year's biggest spending bill
covering the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and
Education. Its price tag will exceed $300 billion.

To help pay for the bill, Republicans also plan to declare the
$1.4 billion program that helps poor people pay heating bills a
budget "emergency." That declaration means the money can exceed
spending limits enacted two years ago, and that GOP leaders
recently conceded they will break.

In other action, the Senate voted by voice to boost spending for
veterans by $600 million next year.

In what has become a bidding war over a popular program, the
Senate voted to increase veterans' healthcare spending next year to
$19 billion. That would match the House's figure and exceed both
this year's total and President Clinton's original request by $1.7
billion.

But by 63-36, senators rejected a proposal by Sen. Paul
Wellstone, D-Minn., to add the $1.3 billion for veterans health,
paid for out of budget surpluses.

Minutes later, senators voted 61-38 to kill a plan by Sen.
Robert Smith, I-N.H., that would have provided $225 million for
veterans, this time paid for by killing Clinton's AmeriCorps
national service program.

That vote was significant because it signaled that the Senate
would refuse to go along with the House, which voted to kill the
AmeriCorps community service program entirely.


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