Shock waves from California's Proposition 13 were felt for the first time in Congress yesterday, as the House voted overwhelmingly to cut $1 billion from the fiscal 1979 appropriations bill for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
The 290-to-87 vote endorsed an amendment offered by Republican Whip Robert Michel (III.), who said the reduction would be limited to areas an inspector general's report said were subject to fraud and abuse.
But the amendment may have no practical significance, according to one opponent.
"I know after the Proposition 43 wote there is near panic in this House, and members want to be the first in cutting spending," Appropriations Committee member Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) said.
But Obey charged Michel was proposing a "phony cut" in response to the California vote.
Proposition 13, adopted by a 2-to-1 ratio Tuesday, has been characterized as a taxpayers' revolt as it mandates a drastic rollback in property taxes, frocing local governments to cut services.
"I hope you enjoy yourselves when you pretend to your constituents you're actually saving money," Obey said. "This won't cut a dime," he said, because, it would only estimates, not entitlements. "The entitlement money will still go out."
Under the amendment, no specific program reductions are required. It is left up to HEW to reduce "waste, fraud and abuse" in those areas cited by the inspector general. The amendment, in fact, does not allow a reduction in services or jeopardize any increases in administration requests.
The House bill is $643 million over President Carter's budget, and he has threatened a veto if the final congressional version is too high.
But the administration did not support the Michel amendment and failed totally in making cuts it wanted.
The administration sought to cut some $441 million from education and health manpower outlays but had trouble finding anyone to introduce its proposal.
Finally, Rep. Ken Holland (D.S.C.) agreed to offer an amendment for the administration cutting $233 million from Basic Education Opportunity grants. But Holland left the floor immediately afterward, not staying to ask for a record vote. The amendment lost on a voice vote.
White House legislative liason official William Cable said Holland had to catch a plane.
In offering the amendment, Holland said "lines have to be drawn in what can be afforded in this Congress."
But Rep. William Ford (D-Mich.) called the White House veto threat "ridiculous."
The HEW inspector general's report cited in support of Michel's amendment put the level of waste and fraud in the department at $6.3 billion to $7.4 billion. It said the major losses occurred in Medicaid, Medicare, aid to families with dependent children, Social Security, student loans, compensatory education and indirect costs.
Michel said that defaults on student loans were rising despite "all the fanfare," and the HEW imposes no penalty on Medicaid abuses.
The House did reject amendments increasing funds for removal of architectural barriers to the handicapped and increasing funds for gifted children.
The House will finish debate on the $58 billion bill funding the departments of Labor and HEW next week.
Still undecided is a controversy over using federal money for abortions.
The committee has tightened already stringent restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortions, but the Democratic leadership supports aisting restrictions in the hope of compromise that would continue ex-avoiding a long fight with the Senate like last year's.