Thousands of people with heart problems might no longer qualify for federal disability pay under a Bush administration proposal to expand the use of a controversial exercise test.

Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.) and New York state officials contend the tests, which require pedaling a bicycle or walking on a treadmill, could be unfairly used to exclude deserving applicants.

"There can be no question that in this day of mammoth federal deficits, even minimal savings are appreciated," Heinz said. "But to create savings by distorting congressional intent is unacceptable and a blatant disregard for the public interest."

The government estimates it will save $30 million in the plan's first year, and $220 million a year by 1995.

Plans for the testing program are still being drawn and would be subject to public comment.

The Social Security Administration receives 195,000 disability applications a year based on heart problems.

If the proposal went into effect, the agency said, cardiovascular benefits would drop as much as 5 percent and thousands of people would lose eligibility if the tests showed the applicants were not sufficiently disabled.

SSA already uses the procedure in many cases to gauge the severity of heart disorders, but the proposed regulations would require a treadmill test for every disability benefit applicant with heart disease who could safely undergo one.

Under the proposal, applicants would qualify for Social Security disability payments averaging $560 a month only if the ailment is deemed serious enough to prevent them from working.