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House Reaffirms '86 Spending Cutbacks High Court Rejected

July 17, 1986|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The House today voted overwhelmingly to reaffirm $11.7 billion in across-the-board spending cuts that were made last March but recently thrown into question by the Supreme Court.

A joint resolution was approved 339 to 72 after Democratic and Republican leaders said failure to stick by this year's spending cuts would hurt efforts to reduce future deficits as well.

Senate leaders said they will vote on the resolution Friday or early next week.

The deficit for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, is expected to be about $220 billion even with the cutbacks.

Rep. William H. Gray III (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, said abandoning the earlier cuts would add $15 billion to $20 billion to the deficit for fiscal 1987. Under the Gramm-Rudman law, Congress is required to stay within a deficit limit of $144 billion next year.

Mechanism for Cuts

Rep. Lynn Martin (R-Ill.) said reaffirming the March 1 cuts was responsible action "insuring that the beginnings of deficit reduction are in place."

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), an opponent of the Gramm-Rudman law, argued unsuccessfully that the vote was "a great opportunity to turn the whole thing back in." A few other opponents joined him, but debate ended in less than half the allotted two hours with the lopsided vote.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas predicted Senate action would follow suit. "The House will act, we will act, it all sounds too easy," Dole said. But he warned the bill is "a good vehicle for posturing" by lawmakers.

Joint Committee

A special joint House-Senate committee was called into session today to approve similar language to that passed by the House, a procedure to help expedite Senate action.

President Reagan's budget director, James C. Miller III, endorsed the action, which Reagan must sign, in a speech today to a Chamber of Commerce breakfast. "I expect quick affirmation," he said.

The Gramm-Rudman law, which was designed to balance the budget by fiscal 1991, imposed automatic spending cuts on March 1 that trimmed 4.3% from many domestic programs and 4.9% from military spending. The cuts totaled $11.7 billion.

Cuts Ruled Void

But the Supreme Court last week ruled that the automatic procedure was unconstitutional, and the cuts were void unless Congress voted to approve them. The court allowed Congress 60 days to take action.

Groups representing civil service retirees, who lost their cost-of-living raises in the March cut, and others lobbied for exceptions to the cutbacks. But congressional leaders said the package had to remain intact.

"You let one out, the whole thing falls apart," said House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.).

Dole said Congress needed to reaffirm the earlier cuts and then move on to the pressing budget problems of fiscal 1987, which begins Oct. 1.

Procedural Shortcut

"Both sides agree: Let's get this thing behind us," Dole said.

By convening the special joint committee, lawmakers used a procedural shortcut for moving the package through the Senate. The Senate lacks the tight rules of the House, and the special procedure will limit debate and block amendments that could tie up the legislation.

Congress also must still decide whether to craft a new, automatic cutback procedure to replace the one in Gramm-Rudman that was ruled unconstitutional. The original law used the comptroller general, an officer of Congress, to order the executive branch to make the cuts.

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