THE ADMINISTRATION won a partial victory last week in its battle to cut domestic spending. Despite much arm-waving and boilerplate earlier in the year, the Democratic-controlled House approved an appropriations bill for major social spending programs that is much closer to the president's requested budget than to the more generous congressional budget resolution approved in June. Part of the House's frugality was more apparent than real. But in some areas--notably job training programs--the cuts are both real and unfortunate.
The appropriation deviates from the president's request in ways that are most revealing of Congress' true interests. Many programs got substantial add- ons. The popular medical research and health delivery programs are maintained at current levels or better. Cuts in a variety of education, social service and energy assistance programs were also rejected or reduced. All of these, please note, are programs in which strong lobbies--doctors, teachers, utility companies and middle-class constituencies--have considerable interests.
As in earlier rounds of budget-cutting, the programs that didn't fare well are those whose benefits are widely spread among the large but disorganized ranks of the poor. The Appropriations Committee simply bought the administration's plans for further onerous cuts in welfare and medical entitlements for the poor, for example. This is mostly game-playing, since cutting those benefits requires authorizing committees to make changes in the law that they may--or at least should--be reluctant to make. If those changes don't get made, actual spending will be considerably higher.
But despite much brave talk by Democrats about the need to prepare the nation's workers for economic change and to do something about the shameful level of minority unemployment, the committee accepted intact the administration's plans for further cuts in training programs. Total spending for employment programs will be almost $1 billion less than the amount that the budget resolution estimated would maintain current service levels. Especially hard-hit will be the training programs for low-income people that local governments can tailor to their needs. Because substantial money will be diverted to state programs and to new programs for laid-off factory workers, localities will face about a 30 percent cut in funds from this year's spending level.
These cuts, coming on top of even larger reductions enacted in 1981, are likely to get the administration's much-vaunted Job Training Partnership program--which seeks to give the private sector more control over local training programs--off to a good start on Oct. 1. With localities fighting to preserve their core programs, opportunities for innovation will be severely limited. Perhaps, in time, expected gains in program efficiency will offset some of the losses. But in the meantime, the Democrats would do well to stop talking about their concern for the jobless--or else to start making good on their pieties.