The Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday laid down its challenge to President Carter by approving funds in its big Labor-Health, Education and Welfare money bill that went $880 million above program levels contained in last week's House-approved compromise version of the measure.
The committee's action is bound to draw criticism from the President, who only reluctantly accepted the House bill, which contains $1.4 billion more than he had requested. Earlier, he had threatened a veto if the amount was not cut.
In withdrawing his objections to the House bill, the President had gotten House Democratic leaders to agree to keeping the final version of the measure close to the House figure.
As of last week, however, the White House had done little in the Senate aimed at cutting its version of the bill.
When, during yesterday's session, acting committee Chairman Warren G. Magnuson (D-Wash.) was reminded by Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.) that the Senate bill was far above the President's request, Magnuson replied, "This bill has been vetoed five times before."
"I'd hate to see us vetoed by a Democratic President," Chiles said, to which Magnuson responded, "I don't know if that makes much of a difference or not."
While the major House increases over the Carter budget were for education programs, the Senate growth came primarily in the labor and health fields.
Almost half the $433 million by which the Senate topped the House in the labor area came in added money for summer youth jobs.
In health, the Senate committee bill ended up close to $400 million more than the House version. Much of the increase was in funds for health professional programs and grant funds for the National Institutes of Health. At yesterday's committee session, $20 million more was added in that area.
Magnuson, who chaired the Appropriations Labor-HEW subcommittee that set the basic figures for yesterday's actions, said, "The President proposed to cut out many health training programs as well as community health programs, and we just don't agree. We have got to get prepared for national health insurance now."
The President and his aides have stressed that if bills that exceed the Carter budget are not cut, there will not be money in future years for such programs as health insurance and for a balanced budget, which the President has said he wants by 1980.
Magnuson claimed yesterday that his committee's bill is below the House's and near the President's original budget request because of $1.9 billion in cuts made in Medicaid and public welfare programs. According to Magnuson's calculations, the administration's estimates for the costs of these programs in fiscal 1978 were overstated.
The committee yesterday also took up three controversial riders added by the House to the Labor-HEW bill.
By a voice vote the Senate committee struck from its measure House language on affirmative action. Under a modified floor amendment, the House voted to prohibit HEW from using funds to enforce "ratios, quotas or other numerical requirements" to achieve hiring or admissions goals involving race or sex.
Magnuson, in getting agreement to remove that language, argued that appropriations bills were not the place to settle such matters.
The same technique of striking controversial language was used for the controversial abortion amendment in the House bill. Here, however, the vote of 11 to 10 was later challenged when Chiles, who missed the vote, asked for reconsideration. He said he would vote against striking the language and in favor of a substitute.
Another abortion amendment vote is scheduled for today by the committee. But the settlement of language will await final action on the Senate floor.
The Senate committee approved an amendment on school busing that revised language voted last week by the House.
Co-sponsored by Sens. Thomas F. Eagleton (D-Mo.) and Joseph Biden (D-Del.), it continued previous restriction on the use of HEW funds for busing students beyond the school nearest their homes and eliminated a loophole in that provision that would allow busing to "pair" or "cluster" schools.
Eagleton said last week's House amendment was so restrictive it "prohibited busing even handicapped children to schools."