Legislation to enable the government to make food stamp payments on time next week won preliminary approval from the House last night, although several hurdles remain before tonight's deadline for avoiding an interruption in benefits for up to 22 million recipients.
The House, voting 257 to 133, approved the basic outlines of a $7 billion supplemental appropriations bill for the rest of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. But the House will have to resolve several disputed points, and the Senate will have to approve the measure, before it goes to President Reagan for approval.
To ease uncertainties over August food stamp payments, which are due to be made Monday, administration officials yesterday let it be known that Congress has until midnight to act.
Unresolved controversies include $8.4 billion for the International Monetary Fund, which is included only in the Senate version of the bill, and a conferees' proposal for inclusion of about $100 million to protect cotton farmers from losses for participating in the administration's payment-in-kind (PIK) program for acreage reduction.
Under tentative plans made last night, the House will attempt to resolve its dispute over the IMF authorization before a final vote on the appropriations measure, meaning the money, sought by the administration and supported by the House Democratic leadership, could be included in the bill.
Earlier, the Republican-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee, brushing aside veto threats, approved a $10.3 billion appropriations bill for the State, Justice and Commerce departments that includes continued funding for the Legal Services Corp. and other spending that the president doesn't want.
Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.), a Reagan confidant and chairman of the subcommittee that drafted the bill, tried to whittle the bill down to a size that might satisfy the president. After failing, he warned that the measure in its current form "almost certainly" would be vetoed.
The administration has objected both to the size of the bill, which meets congressional budget targets but provides $538.4 million more than Reagan proposed, and to inclusion of $257 million for the Legal Services Corp., which Reagan wants to dissolve.
The measure also includes $198 million for the Economic Development Administration, another agency Reagan has targeted for extinction. This represents a $70 million cut from current spending.
The committee's action underscores the increasing reluctance of Congress, including the GOP-run Senate, to go along with the third annual installment of extensive social welfare spending cuts recommended by the administration.
In a close vote earlier Laxalt failed to reduce the bill's size by 1 percent. He said yesterday that he would attempt on the Senate floor and in conference with the House to get the bill down to between $9.9 billion and $10 billion, which he indicated would probably be acceptable to the administration.