The House took one last fling at unfettered deficit financing yesterday as it approved a stopgap $16.1 billion appropriations bill to keep the government operating through the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30.
Pausing in its pursuit of a balanced budget for next year, the House packed about $700 million in additional spending -- for refugees, a New York post office, social welfare services and other programs -- onto a $15.4 billion package for the rest of 1980 that was recommended earlier by its Appropriations Committee.
It made a few savings, too, including $30 million from limiting the pay and bonuses combined of 7,000 top civil servants in the new Senior Executive Service to $52,750 a year, effective as soon as the bill is signed into law.
The House approved the package 294 to 106. The Senate Appropriations Committee began consideration of the bill almost immediately.
With this theoretical final burst of spending by Congress for the current fiscal year, the federal deficit is expected to be about $47 billion -- more than double the $23 billion that Congress anticipated a little over a year ago.
Overall spending for the year is expected to hit $572.6 billion, under a presumably final budget ceiling that was adopted last week in conjunction with the nominally balanced $613.6 bilion budget plan for 1981.
Some congressional sources have questioned whether even this new 1980 ceiling will be high enough to cover costs that are mounting as the recession deepens plus programs that Congress may want to pass in an election year. Most agree that the recession has also already driven the 1981 budget plan out of balance, probably portending a deficit of about $20 billion. b
Much of the additional spending for 1980 was required by the vise of simultaneous inflation and recession. Cost of living increases and rising prices contributed to a $3.7 billion increase in pay for civilian and military government workers and a $3.6 billion rise in defense costs.
But at the same time, job layoffs necessitated a $1.5 billion increase in trade adjustment assistance, a form of supplementary employment benefits to workers in industries like auto manufacturing that are being squeezed by foreign imports. Food stamp benefits, affected by both inflation and recession, had to be increased by $446 million.
Natural disasters, as well as manmade problems that caused a heavy flow of refugees into this country, also played a part. The appropriations bill included $1.7 billion for various forms of disaster relief, with $784 million targeted for victims of the Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption. A total of $200 million was included to aid refugees, half of it for Cuban and Haitian emigres who have not received official government designation as refugees and thus can't qualify for refugee assistance.
The House also cut $100 million from the scandal-ridden furniture purchasing account of the General Services Administration and shifted $42 million of it to the Food for Peace program -- a shift favored by the State Department but opposed by the administration's office of Management and Budget, according to congressional sources.
Because the supplementary money bill became linked for tactical reasons to the 1981 budget plan, it could not be approved until after action on the budget -- a delay that threatened curtailment of benefits under some programs such as trade adjustment assistance this month and black lung payments in July. However, it now appears that Congress can complete action on the bill by next week.
Inclusion of the cap on bonus pay for civil servants followed similar action earlier in the week by the House Appropriations Committee in a money bill for 1981.
For next year, the committee froze top pay for the legislative, executive and judicial branches at $50,112.50 a year, in effect denying cost-of-living increases due Oct. 1 to the 30,000 highest paid government employes.
Only the bonus pay provision was included in the 1980 bill. It was done in part to prevent a rush of bonus payments before Oct. 1, according to Rep. Adam Benjamin Jr. (D-Ind.), sponsor of the proposal. Under the Senior Executive Service, created during Carter's drive to streamline the civil service system two years ago, participants are eligible for bonuses of up to $20,000 a year.
Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee reported out the sixth of 13 appropriation bills for next year -- this one providing $39.6 billion for housing, veterans, space and a score of other independent agencies. b
It contains only about half of what ultimately will be financed by the bill. More than $33 billion in housing and community development spending authority and more than $4 billion in space program money was held up because authorization bills for these programs have not been enacted. The biggest item in the bill is $20.7 billion for veterans' benefits.
The bill contains money to continue next year the program of registering young men for possible military service. A bill providing funds to start the program next month is expected to clear Congress today or early next week.