The House last night passed an $8.1 billion Interior appropriations bill that Republicans denounced as veto-bait, but only after suppressing a GOP across-the-board cut by the narrowest of margins.
In fact, it took two roll calls for the Democratic leadership to work its will.
On the first, Rep. Joseph M. McDade (R-Pa.) upstaged the majority with an amendment calling for a 4 percent cut in discretionary funds in the bill, which he said would reduce it by about $300 million and make it acceptable to President Reagan.
Sitting as the Committee of the Whole, the House approved the slash by 211 to 209. But then the committee "rose," Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) took the gavel and ordered another vote, by the House acting as the House, at the request of Interior Appropriations subcommittee chairman Sidney R. Yates (D-Ill.).
This time, the Democrats won, 213 to 206.
The bill provides $1.4 billion more than the administration requested and includes funds for the Interior Department and related agencies, Energy Department conservation and fossil fuel research, Indian health and education programs, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities.
The measure also carries riders prohibiting Interior Secretary James G. Watt from moving ahead with a number of planned oil and gas leases off the coasts of California, Florida and New England.
It continues and expands the congressional ban on leasing in wilderness areas and requires a suspension of all coal leasing until a specially appointed commission completes a six-month study prompted by Interior's controversial leasing practices under Watt, especially in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming.
The Friends of the Earth quickly hailed the House action as a "natural result of Watt's arrogant disregard" for the concerns of various governors about offshore drilling and a sign that "Congress is getting fed up with Watt's giveaway policies."
"For the first time," FOE energy expert L. Geoffrey Webb said of the bill, "it severely cuts back the secretary's discretionary authority to hold new energy lease sales, both on and offshore."
Yates and his supporters prevailed, 271 to 150, partly with the help of 14-year-old quotes from then-President Richard Nixon. Nixon had called in 1969 for a doubling of the appropriations for the arts and humanities despite its being "a time of severe budget stringency."
The vote on final passage was 272 to 144.
The bill is expected to produce $15.7 billion in revenues, primarily from oil, gas, mineral and timber production. McDade agreed that it "returns $2 for every $1 it puts out."