WASHINGTON -- Both houses of Congress have rejected President Bush's proposal to finance a campaign against infant mortality in 10 localities by diverting money from other health programs that serve pregnant women and poor children.
Instead, Congress last week appropriated $25 million for the infant mortality campaign in the current fiscal year.
The lawmakers did not specify where the money would come from, but they explicitly prohibited Bush from taking it from community health centers or from the Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant, as the administration had planned.
In its budget request to Congress in February, the administration did not seek a new appropriation for the campaign against infant mortality this year.
Rather, it proposed taking $33.7 million from the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant and $23.7 million from community health centers.
In responding yesterday to Congress' action, the administration focused on the fact that lawmakers had provided a smaller amount than Bush proposed.
Dr. James O. Mason, assistant secretary of health and human services, said, "We appreciate the intent of Congress in providing $25 million to start the infant mortality program this year, but we would have liked to get the full $57 million that we requested," with the right to transfer money from other accounts. "We'll have to live with the $25 million," he said in an interview. "We will take the money Congress has given us and make the most of it."
Lawmakers said in debate on the measure that they were not reducing financing for the campaign against infant mortality but were in fact providing $25 million over and above the money already allocated to programs that serve the same purpose.
Congress' decision, part of a $5 billion supplemental appropriations bill approved by both houses Friday, suggested that Bush may also have difficulty winning approval for diverting money to fight infant mortality in the next fiscal year.
For the 1992 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, Bush asked Congress to provide $171 million for the infant mortality campaign.
Of that, $24 million would come from community health centers, $8 million from maternal and child health grants and $139 million would be a new appropriation.
Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, secretary of health and human services, had defended the proposal to divert money on the ground that it would be much more effective when concentrated in 10 target areas than when spread around the country, as it is in the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant and community health centers.
Republican senators, including Christopher S. Bond and John C. Danforth of Missouri, John H. Chafee of Rhode Island and John Heinz of Pennsylvania, led the fight against the Bush proposal. Bond told the administration not to "pit one city's babies against another city's babies," or rural babies against urban babies.
The measure approved Friday specified that none of the money earmarked for community health centers or maternal and child health grants in this fiscal year could be "reprogrammed, redirected or reallocated for any other purposes."