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House Republicans Approach Spending Debate with Clinton

By Janet Hook
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

Capping a steady march to a final budget confrontation with President Clinton, the Republican-controlled House Thursday approved a spending bill that would cut funding for all government agencies by one percent -- a last-ditch austerity measure designed to help the GOP meet its much-vaunted goal of not tapping Social Security revenues for other uses.

Far more was at stake in the bill than just one piece of the sprawling annual budget. The measure is central to Republican efforts to shed the party’s image as hostile to Social Security, education and other social programs. Sidetracking that effort, by contrast, is considered crucial to Democrats’ drive to win control of the House next year.

The bill was approved, 218-211, with only a handful of defections from party lines, and the Senate is expected to follow suit as early as Friday.

But Clinton has promised to veto the bill because of what he has called the “mindless” spending cut in the measure, which would undercut his signature program to hire 100,000 new teachers to reduce class sizes.

“I will veto it,” Clinton told a group of educators Thursday, “because I think we need more teachers, more accountability and more investment in education.”

Once the bill clears Congress, Republicans said during House debate, they will have lived up to their promise to produce a budget that avoids drawing on the Social Security surplus for the first time in decades.

“We have brought ourselves today to that day they said we just couldn’t get to,” said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas. “Today we are proving we can fund the government without raising Social Security and without raiding taxes.”

Democrats, challenging that claim, brandished a letter from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office showing that the spending bills approved by Congress would result in a $17 billion drain on the Social Security Trust Fund.