The House yesterday easily defeated a series of efforts to trim back an $83.6 billion 1991 spending bill loaded with increased funding for space activities, public housing, veterans and projects for members' districts.
Rep. Bill Frenzel (Minn.), ranking Republican on the Budget Committee and one of the House's chief fiscal watchdogs, called the overall spending level authorized by the bill "egregious." But as Frenzel futilely sought to make a 14.5 percent reduction in most parts of the appropriations measure, a smiling Rep. Bill Green (R-N.Y.), the chief Republican sponsor, noted that the White House was protesting a series of earlier House cuts in the bill.
Sponsors of the bill for the departments of Veteran Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and independent agencies, acknowledged that it might be trimmed later in the session to bring it into line with a deficit-cutting budget summit agreement. But four of 13 appropriations bills have now passed the House and as the bills pile up lawmakers are staking out positions that make future cutting more difficult.
After several other attempts to pare smaller amounts failed, the measure passed 355 to 48.
The only casualty of the day was a tiny, $6.2 million program, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), which was eliminated by a voice vote from the space budget. SETI would use state of the art equipment to detect signals from outer space, but Rep. Silvio O. Conte (R-Mass.) said Congress should set up a "Search for Congressional Intelligence" if it funded the program in such austere budgetary times.
Overall, the House voted the National Aeronautics and Space Administration a 17 percent increase in its budget, though the White House budget office protested that the amount was still $820 million less than President Bush's request..
The House bill eliminated for the time being about $300 million in research funds for the Moon-Mars mission, a top priority for the president but not for NASA. Rep. Robert S. Walker (R-Pa.) suggested in an interview that appropriators had been influenced by "bureaucrats from NASA who come up here and say the president thinks this is a good idea, but we don't think so."
"The appropriators have a tendency to feed the bureaucracy," he said.
The Moon-Mars battle is expected to continue in the Senate. While Sen. Jake Garn (R-Utah), who has flown on the space shuttle, is an avid NASA supporter, the key appropriations subcommittee there is chaired by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who is interested in channeling more resources to housing and down-to-earth programs.
The Moon-Mars project suffered a further blow this week when the Senate Commerce Committee terminated a $188 million authorization for the program. Sens. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) and Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) reportedly argued that the program was unaffordable in 1991.
The House-passed bill contains a $4.2 billion increase for housing assistance to the poor, elderly and minorities, the biggest hike in a decade. Bush is also supporting a $7.7 billion appropriation for renewing expiring contracts with landlords providing subsidized housing in 294,000 units. Also yesterday, the House quickly passed legislation to prevent as many as 250,000 women, infants and children from being dropped from the rolls of the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program. The measure allows state programs to borrow in advance up to 3 percent of future appropriations.
Cutbacks had been threatened because of rising food prices for milk, cheese and fruit.