WASHINGTON - A House subcommittee came through last week with fiscal 1994 funding for two of President Clinton's infrastructure initiatives, despite worries earlier this year that those proposals might be cut because of tight budgetary constraints.
Clinton's requests for a $599 million appropriation to start a system of state revolving funds to finance the treatment of drinking water and for a $224 million boost in the $4 billion Community Development Block Grant program were granted in a closed-door session of a House Appropriations Committee sub-committee just before Congress left for its Memorial Day recess.
But the subcommittee also slashed the $2 billion state revolving fund program for wastewater treatment to a little above the $1.2 billion level proposed by Clinton - a move that caused state officials to step up their warnings that the program is being robbed to finance the other initiatives.
In another action viewed warily by the states, the subcommittee earmarked an additional $500 million of wastewater funds for "hardship" projects along the Mexican border and near coastal cities as part of its overall $68.3 billion appropriations bill.
The Clinton administration and state officials have opposed most such add-ons as pork barrel spending that only encourages cities with strong lobbies in Washington to seek out-and-out-grants from the government for their projects, rather than issue bonds or seek loans from the revolving funds.
While the subcommittee's actions do partly reflect political motives, the full funding the panel gave to two of Clinton's investment priorities nevertheless gratified state and local lobbyists, and represented a small victory for the President.
Frank Shafroth, lobbyist for the National League of Cities, described the subcommittee's action as "a success in one of the earliest battles of the shark tank" created by stringent budget caps that pit one program against another.
Administration officials from Clinton on down had predicted that some of the President's investment programs would be cut after Congress squeezed $55 billion out of his discretionary budget in the fiscal 1994 budget resolution and imposed a freeze at roughly the 1992 level over the next five years.
But the infrastructure investments may survive the fight for scarce appropriations this year in large part because the Democratic Congress agrees with the President's priorities, said Eric Federing, communications director of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee.
The drinking water initiative, in particular, received funding because "the two major committees with jurisdiction have acted [to, authorize the program], and it has been a priority in the Clinton budget." Federing said. "Those reasons combined have influenced the appropriations committee."
The public works panel and the House Energy and Commerce Committee have been feuding about which committee has jurisdiction over the drinking water initiative, however, and the administration still has not finished its own formal proposal to create the program.
Federing conceded those developments ultimately could obstruct efforts to get the program started during the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The appropriations subcommittee has made drinking water funds contingent on an authorization bill being passed by that date.
Other congressional aides note that the infrastructure initiatives are receiving priority in part because those programs unexpectedly lost out when Clinton's $16.3 billion job stimulus bill was defeated by a Senate Republican filibuster in April.
That bill had contained $2.5 billion for the community grant program, $845 million for the wastewater revolving funds, and more than $4.5 billion of transportation and other infrastructure funding.
Because the wastewater funds in the jobs bill had essentially been carved out of the revolving fund program's anticipated $2 billion budget for 1994, the program was particularly hard hit by the death of the bill, and Congress and the administration have taken pains in recent weeks to try to make up for the loss.
The House passed a small-time, $935 million revival of the jobs bill last week that included $290 million for the wastewater program - the only remnant of the original jobs bill's infrastructure funding.
But state water officials warn that legislative efforts on behalf of the wastewater program still fall short.
The program must continue to be funded at its previous annual level of $2 billion for the next five years at least if it is to succeed in putting a dent in more than $1 00 billion of mandated water cleanup projects, said Linda Eichmiller, deputy director of the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators.
An appropriation significantly less than $2 billion will cause "a lot of agony" as environmental mandates continue to go unaddressed, she said.