WASHINGTON — A controversial inner-city job training program sponsored by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) became the focus of a bitter dispute Friday as the House wrestled with a $3-billion Midwest flood relief bill.
House leaders decided to wait until Tuesday to try to approve the disaster aid, which was blocked Thursday by 171 Republicans and 45 Democrats who argued that the assistance should be offset by spending cuts in other government programs.
Democratic leaders contend that disputed language was inserted in the flood relief measure to correct an oversight in summer-jobs legislation approved earlier this year.
That bill would grant weekly stipends of $100 for job training or schooling for inner-city residents ages 17 to 30.
Congress has already approved spending $50 million to pay the stipends under the "Youth for Change" program, said House Majority Whip David E. Bonior (D-Mich.). A "technical correction" in the flood relief measure was necessary because the House forgot to include language triggering the payments, Democrats said.
Republican critics, however, insisted that the stipends language had been deliberately taken out of the job training bill to get around Senate objections to granting the payments to people over 17.
Many Republicans, including Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), tried to get the provision removed from the flood relief measure. Rep. Gerald B.H. Solomon (R-N.Y.) called the provision "totally outrageous" because it had no relationship to disaster relief for flood victims.
Waters denounced the Republican attacks Friday as a smoke screen to divert attention from the GOP role in thwarting approval of the disaster aid legislation the day before.
Delaying relief for hundreds of thousands of flood victims could generate political heat for those lawmakers who voted against it.
The Democratic leadership stood behind Waters on the issue, setting up a likely new confrontation Tuesday.
"We can get the votes to win if we have full attendance," said a source close to the Democratic leadership, explaining why the measure would not come up Monday when many members are likely to be absent.
The Senate is expected to give swift approval to the measure once it clears the House.
Waters added that the 17-to-30 age group needs to be targeted because so many young people are unemployed and lack skills or a high school education. They would otherwise be "wreaking havoc on the streets of America," she said.
"If they want to make Maxine Waters the symbol of everything they (Republicans) dislike, that is the most irresponsible judgment I can think of," Waters said.
Also Friday, the Treasury Department announced that nearly a million Social Security and other government benefit checks will be mailed one or two days early this month to ensure that they are delivered on time to residents of flood-damaged areas of Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas.
Supplemental Security Income and veterans benefits checks will be delivered by July 30. Civil Service retirement and railroad retirement checks will be delivered by Aug. 2 and Social Security checks will be delivered by Aug. 3.