The House yesterday waded through an agenda of election-year crowd-pleasers and gave easy bipartisan approval to bills toughening anticrime laws and guaranteeing social security recipients a cost-of-living increase in January.
The House also approved a Democratic-inspired measure requiring that the president submit a balanced budget, starting with the fiscal 1986 document, or explain why he cannot and assess how it would affect the economy.
Despite the bills' large bipartisan support, the lawmakers spent the day in partisan dabate, mostly over credit for the legislation's passage.
The Social Security measure, requested by President Reagan last July and and approved 417 to 4, would ensure that recipients get a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) this January even if inflation remains low.
Under current law, such adjustments are triggered when the consumer price index (CPI) rises by at least 3 percent during the year. When Reagan requested the legislation, the CPI increase was expected to fall below 3 percent, thus depriving social security recipients of an adjustment. New estimates, however, show an increase of 3.3 percent or more.
The anticrime package, approved 406 to 16, was hastily put together and scheduled by key Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee in response to the Republicans' attaching an administration anticrime package to an omnibus spending bill.
Many Democrats voted against the decision to attach the administration's package to the spending bill and welcomed the chance yesterday to vote for the Democratic alternative to show that they are not "soft on crime."
Republicans supported the Democratic package but suggested that its consideration yesterday was an exercise in one-upmanship. "I am concerned that this recent conversion on the part of the majority party might be based more on politics" than on merits, said Rep. Hamilton Fish Jr. (R-N.Y.).
Most of the Democratic package, dealing with such issues as drug-related crime, credit-card fraud and laundering money, had been approved by the House as separate bills. Sponsors of the package said they had proposed it in case the administration package were stripped from the omnibus spending bill and to keep alive several of the House crime bills.
The package also contains several controversial provisions that the House had not approved previously, such as a bail reform measure that allows preventive detention in some cases, new restrictions on the insanity defense and sentencing guidelines for federal judges in criminal cases.
In addition, the bill would repeal federal rape statutes and replace them with "gender neutral" provisions to cover homosexual as well as heterosexual rape. It also would set up a crime victims' fund to help finance state compensation programs.
The balanced-budget measure was approved, 411 to 11, after Republicans bitterly complained that they had had no warning that the bill was coming up and charged that it was political window dressing in an election year.
Rep. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said the Democrats were "throwing up a foil" so they could return to their districts for the election and claim they had worked for a balanced budget while keeping a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution bottled up in committee.
House Budget Committee Chairman James R. Jones (D-Okla.), who sponsored the measure and is in a tough reelection race, said, "The issue is straightforward. Do you want a balanced budget or do you only want to talk about a balanced budget?"