WASHINGTON -- Seizing the Republican banner of "family values," House Democrats passed legislation yesterday intended to keep troubled families together and prevent them from going hungry.
Democrats insisted that the plan, which would be paid for by higher taxes on millionaires, offered Congress a chance to do more than talk about helping families. Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., said the bill shows "who's for kids and who's just kidding."
The bill was adopted on a vote of 256-163, with 236 Democrats, 19 Republicans and one independent in favor and 19 Democrats and 144 Republicans opposed.
The House bill would provide $3.5 billion over five years to help states offer intensive social services to families in danger of breaking up. And it would provide another $3.5 billion for expanded food stamp eligibility.
The Republican argument against the measure was rarely focused on its objectives, but on the contention that it symbolized the Democrats' "tax and spend" approach that would lead to higher taxes for everyone. The bill would impose a NTC 10 percent surtax on taxable incomes of more than $1 million. But Rep. Bill Emerson, R-Mo., said, "A surtax on millionaires today is a surtax on people making $50,000 a year down the road."
The Bush administration assailed the House bill yesterday. The Office of Management and Budget said the measure "embodies the irresponsible tax-and-spend policies this administration has strenuously opposed." Mr. Bush's advisers would urge him to veto the measure, the OMB said.
Rep. Sander M. Levin, D-Mich., said the money intended for social services would enable states to pay for programs that would assign a social worker "to work closely with no more than two families for a period of four to six weeks," helping them find work, housing and services needed to keep them together.
Rep. Thomas J. Downey, D-N.Y., said that Republicans often talk about family values but that yesterday the House was in a position to act on the "greatest" such value, "which is to keep families together."
"There are children crying out for our help," he said. "Take the risk of spending a few more dollars."
Rep. Bill Gradison, R-Ohio, said if Democrats were truly interested in doing something for the nation's children, they would try to reduce the deficit so those children would not be burdened with interest payments on a growing national debt.