Legislators had busted President Bush's 1991 budget before, but never on such a patriotic note as yesterday.
First humming, then singing the chorus from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," members of the House Appropriations Committee passed a $170 billion education, labor, health and human services spending bill that exceeded the White House budget request by $4.2 billion and reserved another $8.9 billion to pay for other programs to be added.
The humming started when the committee's top Republican, Rep. Silvio O. Conte (Mass.), called the measure "America's bill." When Conte kept on about the needs of the poor and disadvantaged in this period of hot dogs and the Fourth of July, committee ranks broke into "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah."
The singing died out quickly amid laughter, but the moment epitomized this summer's budget quandary. As "summit" talks on the budget deficit drag on, a united front of Republicans and Democrats in Congress is well on its way to presenting the White House with a stack of appropriations bills that reflect Congress's spending priorities, not the president's.
Four of the seven appropriations bill reported out of the committee have substantially exceeded the White House budget. Yesterday the full House, by a vote of 385 to 31, passed a $30.9 billion transportation bill that topped the White House figure by $4.2 billion.
To keep the overall budget figure in line with the White House request, these domestic spending bills assume a dividend from much deeper cuts in defense spending than Bush wants, and use half-year-old estimates of the 1991 budget deficit that do not take into account the higher interest rates and economic slowdown of recent months.
But among Democrats and Republicans in Congress, a bandwagon appears to be developing to vote money for projects, programs and home districts and worry about the funding problems later.
Speaking on the House floor yesterday in support of the transportation bill, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) said, "I grow a little weary of calling our bill full of pork . . . . To call our transportation system pork barrel would be like calling our own blood vessels and aortas pork."
DeLay noted that he is "one of the most conservative members of the House."
The bill cleared by the Appropriations Committee yesterday clearly reflected the sentiment to beef up spending on health and education. It increases federal spending on education to a record $26 billion, $3 billion more than the current year. Within that, financial assistance to needy students rises by $692 million, and programs for disadvantaged and migrant school children is increased by $1 billion.
In other parts of the bill, spending for AIDS rises by $200 million to $1.7 billion, and the National Institutes of Health garners $1 billion more than this year. At the same time, the committee reserved $8.9 billion to cover appropriations later in the session for programs wanted by Congress and the president. These include an expanded but still unauthorized 1991 Head Start pre-school program, a new program of child care, assistance to communities impacted by the AIDS epidemic, school improvement and breast and cervical cancer screening.
Along with funding these social needs, spending bills moving through the House also contain money for projects that Bush and many lawmakers see as essential to maintain a U.S. advantage in scientific research. The labor, health and education bill allocates $66.1 million to the NIH gene mapping program -- $36.8 million less than the president wanted. And the transportation bill included $12 million to begin developing a magnetic levitation train to replace traditional wheel-on-rail trains.