WASHINGTON - The House Appropriations Committee approved President Clinton's dramatically scaled-down jobs stimulus bill yesterday after narrowly approving an amendment to halve the bill's $400 million in funding for the state wastewater treatment revolving fund program.
The funding for wastewater treatment is the only remnant of $8 billion in infrastructure funding originally contained in the bill that died at the hands of a Senate Republican filibuster last month. Overall, the measure has been sliced to $1.41 billion from the $16.3 billion proposed by Clinton.
The President in the latest bill sought to preserve less than half of the $845 million of wastewater treatment funds he originally proposed, but even that modest amount came under fire yesterday because of the way the committee proposed offsetting the funds with cuts in other programs.
Among the other programs hit with cuts are the airport trust fund, federal prison construction, and the Economic Development Administration, which would lose $57.4 million, $94.5 million, and $55 million, respectively.
The cuts were added to the bill to satisfy Republican criticism of the original bill's deficit spending. Republicans on the committee generally praised the cuts, and Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., who led the assault on the original bill, said they would make the bill acceptable in the Senate.
But House Appropriations Committee Democrats who were discontented with the bill's proposed $200 million cut in low-income energy assistance, led by Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., proposed replacing the cut with an identical reduction in the wastewater funds. The move was supported by the committee leadership.
"Wastewater treatment is important, but it shouldn't be put on the backs of the poor people" who need the energy assistance, Obey said.
"This is the best of three lousy alternatives." he said in pushing the amendment. "That's all we're going to get this year - lousy alternatives," because of tight budgetary constraints, he said.
Other Democrats on the committee defended the wastewater funding, and the Obey amendment initially was narrowly rejected by 23 to 21, with several committee members absent.
But Rep. Charles Wilson, D-Tex., moved to reconsider that vote when several more members joined the meeting, and it was reversed on a 26-to-24 vote.
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., lamented the loss of the funds, noting that the committee faced an "impossible choice" in deciding how to pay for the program. "The wastewater treatment program is one of the most important programs in the bill for providing jobs." she said.
"We're trying to rob Peter to pay Paul," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. DeLauro. along with several other Democrats, pleaded with committee leaders to come up with better ways to pay for the jobs plan.
Rep. Vic Fazio. D-Calif., a member of the House Democratic leadership organization, said House leaders will support amendments to the bill on the House floor later this week that would seek to restore the wastewater funding and trim funding in less controversial areas.