The House yesterday approved an $84.5 billion apropriation for next year's federal health and labor programs, including a rejiggering of low-income fuel assistance to benefit states in the Frost Belt.
The bill passed by a vote of 320 to 83.
Although the big news might have been that group restraint held the bill to about $5 million less than President Carter sought, the real flap on the floor was how the money would be divvied up.
The central argument occurred over distribution of $1.8 billion to low-income Americans to help them pay increased winter heating costs.
After angry and emotional debate, the House rejected, 215 to 199, an amendment that would have assured Sun Belt states a larger slice of the energy-assistance pie.
The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Edward R. Roybal (D-Calif.), would have had the effect of continuing a formula authorized in the crude oil tax law that benefited southern and western states, which presumably have less need for aid to pay the cost of heating.
Roybal was attempting to rewrite an Appropriations Committee formula that would channel a greater amount of aid to snow-struck states.
Rep. Silvio O. Conte (R-Mass.), gesticulating furiously and red in the face, called the Roybal approach an "outrageous" and "unconscionable" grab by the Sun Belt states.
He said that Louisiana, for example, would get 115 percent more money, and Florida 147 percent, while some northeastern states would get less.
Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) argued that the new committee formula was designed to assure that no state receives less than it did this fiscal year, with more aid going to those with the greatest need.
"We have only $1.8 billion, so the committee is trying to find a way to keep the states even with fiscal 1980 . . . we should give all states the same amount as in 1980 and distribute the rest to the needy," Obey said.
The new formula will find critics in the Senate, principally Russell B. Long (D-La.), whom Conte denounced yesterday for "putting one over" on the House with his crude oil profits formula.
The huge appropriations measure is to provide operating money for the departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services, as well as a number of related agencies.
Among the hundreds of programs covered by the bill are job safety, federal unemployment benefits, biomedical research, Medicaid and Medicare, jobs and job training for the poor, summer employment, refugee resettlement, child welfare and programs for the aging.
As is the case every year, debates swirled around a variety of emotional programs, ranging this time from school prayer to bilingual education and school busing.
The committee avoided wrenching controversy by including language identical to that in last year's bill that would limit the use of federal money for abortions except where a woman's life might be endangered, and would limit the use of federal funds in the busing of students to achieve school desegregation.
Although the language was the same, the House added another fillip with adoption of a certain-to-be-controversial amendment by Rep. John M. Ashbrook (R-Ohio). He proposed that no court order or injunction could override any of the spending bans imposed by the House.
Rep. Robert S. Walker (R-Pa.) won approval of an amendment to ban the use of federal funds to halt programs of voluntary school prayer and meditation in public schools.