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Nothing Sacred as House Republicans Slash Budget

By Richard A. Serrano
Los Angeles Times

House Republicans, caught up in a budget cutting fervor that surpassed even their own predictions, took aim Thursday at an array of federal housing, poverty and low-income assistance programs, as well as President Clinton's cherished national service initiative.

In a series of meetings Thursday, subcommittees of the House Appropriations Committee voted to recommend about $10 billion in cuts on top of the $7 billion tentatively approved by other Appropriations subcommittees the day before. The recommendations now go to the full committee, which can make changes before sending them to the full House.

The $17 billion total more than doubles the amount Republicans said earlier this week they sought to offset federal spending on disaster assistance last year.

The reductions are shaping up as a prelude to the even more difficult steps and vigorous debate that loom ahead if Congress hopes eventually to balance the federal budget. Republican leaders contend the cuts must be made if Washington is serious about capping the spiraling budget deficit.

Along with the national service and housing programs, other reductions Thursday were made in spending for veterans hospitals, medical equipment and law enforcement. Some $30 million was cut from high technology grants, an initiative sponsored by Vice President Al Gore.

Republican leaders also turned down the Clinton administration's request for $672 million in funds for international peacekeeping activities, and $159 million in proposed spending for a dozen new federal office buildings and courthouses across the country.

In meeting after meeting on the House side of the Capitol, the determination of Republicans and the ire of Democrats rose to new levels.

Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., who as chairman of the full House Appropriations Committee is sitting in on many of the subcommittee sessions, is piling praise upon his Republican colleagues and making sure that the cuts are deep and genuine.

"People want a return to fiscal sanity," Livingston said. "They want to cut spending."

But Democratic leaders like Rep. David R. Obey, R-Wis., argue that the process is Draconian and eventually will harm only the poor.

"I've been in this town for 25 years and the worst thing that can happen is when you begin to believe your own baloney," he told his Republican counterparts. "And I'm certainly hearing a lot of baloney today."

The political division is so wide that Clinton, when word first surfaced the cuts were coming, threatened to veto any proposal that impinges on on his national service program, under which high school and college students can help pay for their education by working on community projects.

The House VA-HUD appropriations subcommittee Thursday eliminated the $210 million increase that was to have gone for the program over the next year, freezing it instead at the existing level of about $700 million.

Subcommittee chairman Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., vowed that more cuts are to come. "This puts us on a very clear path toward the incremental phase-out of this program," he said.

Outside his packed hearing room, Clinton supporters charged that the Republicans were targeting the national service initiative specifically to attack the White House.

"It's all political," said Ivan Frishberg, who as a project director of the Public Interest Research Program has helped set up the initiative. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., is using the national service cuts "as a political bat to get at Clinton."

Next to him was Jim McNeill of Boston, who helps run a federally assisted housing program for the elderly that the Republican budget-cutters are reducing and eventually hope to eliminate.

"It's gone." McNeill lamented. "It's all on its way out the door. They're killing our program."

Wednesday, five other Appropriations subcommittees voted to trim about $7 billion from a score of health, education and other social programs.

They killed a program to help the poor pay utility bills and reduced spending for job training and AIDS prevention and care. The panels also trimmed and sliced their way through various energy and water projects, ($212 million), park and cultural programs ($327 million) and agricultural and food initiatives ($212 million).