The Democratic-dominated House Ways and Means Committee refused yesterday to commit itself to vote the $4.7 billion in health and welfare cuts and $12.8 billion in tax increases President Reagan has proposed for it, saying only that it would make "every effort" to reduce the federal deficit by comparable amounts.
Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) said later that the committee wants to see what alternative Senate Republicans work out with the president before deciding what it will do. He suggested, as did the Senate Finance Committee last week when it also declined to endorse any of the president's specific proposals, that Congress might ultimately vote for fewer spending cuts and more tax increases than the president has sought.
Ways and Means and Finance have jurisdiction over the entire tax side of the budget and a large part of the spending side as well, including such major programs as Social Security, Medicare, welfare and unemployment compensation.
As Ways and Means was voting yesterday, Health and Human Services Secretary Richard S. Schweiker was defending the administration's proposed health and welfare spending cuts before Finance.
Schweiker noted that, even with the retrenchments proposed in Medicare, Medicaid, welfare and assorted social services, his department's budget would go up $20 billion or 8 percent in fiscal 1983 to $274.2 billion. That increase results largely from the growth of Social Security--the largest program by far--and Medicare despite proposed reductions in reimbursements in the latter and the cuts proposed in other programs.
Schweiker refused to give any support to the idea of holding down Social Security cost-of-living increases this year as a way of cutting the federal budget, although Chairman Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) pressed him on the question, saying "some feel we can't overlook that particular program this year." Schweiker said the administration position is that it will not endorse any Social Security proposals until the National Commission on Social Security Reform reports Dec. 31.
Schweiker, in a discussion of the proposed "medical competition" bill, which a Reagan Cabinet council will take up today, said one option in it is charging Medicare patients 6 percent of hospital costs a day up to a $2,500 catastrophic limit; at present they pay for the first day and get the next 59 free.
Schweiker and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) clashed sharply over a report by the University of Chicago Center for the Study of Social Policy. It found that in 24 states, a welfare mother with some income from work would lose so much under the administration plan for cutting welfare that she would be better off not working.
"Why have you declared war on women who work in the marketplace?" asked Moynihan. "Are you in fact trying to drive these women back onto welfare where you can abuse them more?"
Schweiker angrily retorted that the administration welfare plan still allows working welfare mothers to deduct some costs for work expenses and child care.
Moreover, he said, various studies seem to rebut the idea that recipients necessarily work more if they have large deductions for work expenses, and less if they have only small ones.
For example, he said, in 1967 Congress allowed certain work-cost deductions for welfare mothers who work. Before then, about 14 percent of the welfare mothers worked. The figure has stayed the same since. Similarly, he said, before the deductions were allowed, 33 percent of the welfare mothers left welfare to go to jobs. Now, despite larger inducements, the figure has dropped to 10 percent.