WASHINGTON — Acting with the support of Democrats and Republicans, the Senate Appropriations Committee added $1.45 billion Tuesday to an emergency urban aid package sought by the White House in the wake of the Los Angeles riots.
The measure, which now goes to the full Senate, includes the $494.7 million voted by the House for disaster assistance for Los Angeles and Chicago, and $500 million for direct loans for small businesses that were damaged by the rioting.
But, by a 16-1 vote, the committee added $1.45 billion to increase spending for social programs in inner cities across the nation, transforming the bill the House approved into a much broader relief package. The addition includes $700 million to provide summer jobs for youths and $250 million each for Head Start, summer school programs and the "Weed and Seed" program, which aims to weed out crime and then establish social rehabilitation efforts.
The addition of the $1.45 billion threatens to become a new point of contention between Congress and the White House over whether the additional package violates the 1990 budget agreement intended to limit new spending.
Budget Director Richard G. Darman told Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) in a letter before the vote that it would be "highly regrettable if this bill were expanded to include items unrelated to the direct disaster assistance programs" and that it could lead to "stalemate and conflict," a White House official said.
This official and others said after the vote that President Bush's representatives would be willing to discuss the issue with congressional leaders. They did not immediately rule out the bill's acceptance by Bush.
The Appropriations Committee acted as Bush pressed for bipartisan support for his more limited package of urban assistance, stressing that it would help all cities and not just Los Angeles.
Bush directed his chief of staff, Samuel K. Skinner, to open a series of meetings with congressional leaders today to gain support, and he asked Atty. Gen. William P. Barr to develop an "action plan" to combat urban crime, particularly gang activity, White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater said.
Bush, addressing the National Retail Federation, said Tuesday: "I think the federal government has responded promptly to the troubles out there. I hope that our response has been proper."
The President's program includes law enforcement efforts to clean up inner-city neighborhoods, social welfare programs, a housing initiative intended to boost home ownership among lower-income people and tax breaks to encourage development of industry in poverty-stricken areas.
The increased aid program approved by the Appropriations Committee gained a strong showing of bipartisan support, with only one Republican, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, voting against it.
The senators argued that the increased spending would not breach current budget ceilings if Bush joins them in declaring the Los Angeles situation a national emergency to overcome the budget law's limits on deficit spending.
But the Office of Management and Budget said Tuesday that it saw nothing in the added money for social programs to justify emergency treatment and warned that, if the extra spending were approved, it would have to "sequester"--or impound--federal dollars to make up for it.
The $1.45-billion package would virtually double the number of summer jobs for youths that the federal government finances, to slightly more than 1 million.
It also would keep open throughout the summer the Head Start program for preschool children, which traditionally shuts down at the end of the regular school year. This would provide programs for about 200,000 poor youngsters.
And it would enable school districts to expand remedial summer school programs for an extra 550,000 disadvantaged students between ages 6 and 18. Most such programs close in late June.
The money for the "Weed and Seed" program would be used to provide more health services and anti-crime and drug-prevention help for targeted inner-city neighborhoods that suffer from high crime rates.
The extra appropriation for the social programs is expected to win easy approval in the Senate.