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House Passes Bill Ordering $7.6-Billion Spending Cut : Action Affects Military and Domestic Programs

December 04, 1987|KAREN TUMULTY | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The House, taking its first step toward implementing Congress' deficit-reduction accord with President Reagan, passed legislation Thursday ordering its appropriations panels to cut $7.6 billion from projected levels of spending on defense and most types of domestic programs.

The order was added to a massive catchall bill that would fund most government operations for the remainder of the fiscal year. Before passing the $587-billion spending bill on a 248-170 vote, the lawmakers added a string of amendments on such controversial subjects as clean air and broadcasting fairness.

Only the amount of the cuts--$5 billion in defense programs and $2.6 billion in discretionary domestic spending--was spelled out in the language added to the bill. The trickier job of deciding where to cut individual programs was left to a conference committee that will reconcile the House version with that of the Senate.

Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee completed its work on the other major aspects of the deficit agreement: new taxes and reductions in federal entitlement programs.

The agreement is designed to reduce the deficit by $30 billion, with new taxes accounting for $9 billion in savings; entitlement cuts, $4 billion, and asset sales, fee increases, stepped up tax law enforcement and other savings accounting for the remainder.

The deficit-reduction agreement was the product of weeks of intense negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders. They saw it as their best hope of reassuring shaky financial markets that Washington can bring its red ink under control.

All but a handful of House Republicans voted against the massive spending measure, complaining that it does not do enough to reduce the deficit. They objected also to the unrelated amendments, numerous special-interest provisions and the fact that the bill did not specify how the cuts would be made.

'Business as Usual'

"This is not leadership. This is business as usual," Rep. James H. Quillen (R-Tenn.) contended. House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) compared those who wrote the bill to "a legislative Dr. Frankenstein."

However, Democrats narrowly defeated the Republican alternative, which would have saved an additional $3.4 billion this year by freezing spending at fiscal 1987 levels. The GOP plan failed, 220 to 198.

Some Democrats joined Republicans in criticizing the deficit-reduction agreement, which would combine spending cuts, taxes and other revenue increases to cut the $30 billion from the projected $180-billion deficit for fiscal 1988, which began Oct. 1. They noted that, even if it lives up to its promises, the plan will result in a deficit that is larger than last year's $148 billion.

"You can't go home and tell folks that you cut the deficit when the numbers say otherwise," Rep. Timothy J. Penny (D-Minn.) said.

Called Best Compromise

However, supporters insisted that the package is the best compromise that could be struck in negotiations that pitted the agenda of the Republican White House against that of the Democratic-controlled Congress.

"What's important is that eventually the White House and Congress get together on something--whatever it will be," Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) argued.

President Reagan has threatened to veto the spending bill, in part because of the unrelated amendments that were added by the House. Among them:

--An eight-month extension of the deadline for imposing sanctions on areas and cities that do not bring their pollution levels down to limits acceptable under the Clean Air Act. The amendment, sponsored by Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Silvio O. Conte (R-Mass.) and approved on a voice vote, was a victory for environmentalists and a defeat for industry groups, which had sought an extension through 1989.

--An amendment, approved 259 to 157, that would enact the so-called Fairness Doctrine into law. The 40-year-old doctrine, which requires broadcasters to offer opposing viewpoints on issues, was repealed by the Federal Communications Commission after Reagan vetoed an earlier congressional effort to write it into law.

--A ban, approved 399 to 17, against Japanese firms' participation in U.S. public works projects.

The catchall spending bill is necessary because Congress failed to pass any of its 13 regular appropriations bills before the fiscal year began. Since then, the government has been operating under a stopgap measure that will expire Dec. 16.

Because it is so urgent, the spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, is seen as an attractive vehicle for unrelated measures that might be vetoed or die in committee if they stood alone.

Among the provisions attached to the spending bill was one, written by Rep. Edward R. Roybal (D-Los Angeles), that would prevent deportation of the spouses and children of aliens who become legal residents of this country under the sweeping immigration legislation passed last year.

'Carnival' in the Senate

More unrelated items are certain to be added to the legislation when it reaches the Senate, where rules are laxer. "The Senate floor is going to be a carnival," Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Sacramento) said.

In addition to complaining about the provisions that already have been attached to the legislation, Reagan had sought, unsuccessfully, to add one of his own: additional humanitarian aid for the Nicaraguan rebels. Reagan had written in a letter to congressional leaders Wednesday that it is "imperative in my view" that the funds be added.

Many of the unrelated provisions are likely to be stripped from the legislation when it reaches a House-Senate conference committee, and many in Congress are skeptical that the President would carry through on his threat to veto a spending bill needed to keep the government operating past Dec. 16.

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