The House voted last night to stick with tough language prohibiting federal funding of abortion except where the life of the mother is endangered.
The House then passed the $73.6 billion Labor-HEW bill by a vote of 327 to 84.
The action on abortion means that once again Congress will become entangled in a long, drawn-out battle over the issue which for the past several years has held up final approval of the huge Labor-HEW appropriations bill until the final days of the session.
The House also voted, 263-to-152, for an amendment by Republican Whip Robert H. Michel (Ill.) to require the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to cut out $500 million of waste, fraud and abuse in Medicaid, welfare and other HEW programs.
HEW said last week that it would have to reduce Medicaid and welfare payments during the next quarter by $831 million to meet the $1 billion waste amendment Michel got passed last year. But Tuesday the Senate voted to let HEW borrow the money from fiscal 1980 funds instead.
The new Michel amendment means that HEW will have to find the $831 million plus another $500 million from the fiscal 1980 budget. Michel said he offered the amendment because HEW did not comply with last year's directive and made reductions of only $169 million.
"I don't think we should let them off the hook because we are reaching the end of the fiscal year," Michel said.
The House has traditionally voted for the strict anti-abortion language it approved last night, while the Senate has voted for much more liberal language, and House-Senate conferees traditionally have wrangled over the wording for months.
Last night Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis) attempted to get the House to accept the compromise language the House and Senate conferees wound up with last year. The language would prohibit federal funding of abortions except where the mother's life is endangered where severe and lasting physical health damage would result, when so determined by two physicians and except for promptly reported cases of rape and incest.
"We'll be shadowboxing ad nauseum, and when it's all over, we'll have the same language we had last year," Obey said.
He said the compromise language of last year had successfully reduced federal funding of abortions through Medicaid by 99 percent, and that now only about $100,000 a year of federal money is being spent to perform abortions.
"Let's bring this long, agonizing process to an end," Obey argued. But his efforts to have the House adopt last year's language was defeated by a vote of 241 to 180.
Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), the original author of the strict language, said accepting "anything less than a life-endangering condition would be a compromise on human life.
"If a human life weren't involved we wouldn't have much to argue about. But life begins at conception. Wasn't the fascination with Louise Brown due to the fact that her life began in a test tube? We extend protection to whales and the lousewort, why not human life" ... the law must protect the weak as well as the strong."
But Rep. Millicent H. Fenwick (R-N.J.) argued that the issue wasn't whether abortion is legal, because the Supreme Court has already ruled that it is legal. The issue is whether the poor are entitled to abortions as are the rich, who can pay for them. "You are not going to stop abortions. You're just going to put the poor in the back alleys," she said.