WASHINGTON -- The Republican-led House is prepared to start delivering today on its promise to shrink the federal government by chopping $17 billion worth of summer jobs, emergency home heating aid, subsidized housing and other social programs from this year's budget.
"This is the first major step in the downsizing of the bloated federal government," Rep. Gerald B. H. Solomon, a New York Republican, said as debate on the measure opened yesterday. "It gets us closer to the twin goals of lower taxes and smaller government."
Throughout a long day of partisan skirmishing, Democrats mounted a campaign of outrage, complaining that Republicans have aimed their cuts at the young, old, poor and otherwise vulnerable -- while sparing the Pentagon and granting new breaks for the timber industry.
"This bill is wrong, morally wrong," said House Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri. "Who are we fighting for?"
Mr. Gephardt cited Russia Singleton, a 21-year-old single mother from Baltimore who used earnings from a federally sponsored summer job to complete high school training, earn an equivalency diploma and get off welfare.
"Without that summer jobs program, she would still be stuck on welfare," Mr. Gephardt said of Ms. Singleton, who was in Washington this week to lobby against the cut.
Under the legislation, which is expected to win House approval today, the federal summer jobs program -- which provides 600,000 positions each year, including nearly 10,000 for Maryland -- would be wiped out.
The anticipated cuts would be the largest in current spending ever considered by Congress. But they represent only a small down payment on more than $1 trillion in savings Republicans say they will need to balance the federal budget by 2002, as they have promised.
The impact on Maryland alone would be nearly $331 million in lost revenue, spread among housing, education, job training and other programs, according to an analysis by the Democratic staff of the House Appropriations Committee.
"If you don't like these cuts, you're not going to like the ones to come," predicted Louisiana Rep. Robert L. Livingston Jr., who chairs the Appropriations panel.
Some of the proposed cuts proved too deep even for many Republicans.
On a strong bipartisan vote of 382-83, a $206 million cut that would have canceled construction of six new veterans health clinics was restored. Instead, an equal amount was subtracted from one of President Clinton's top priorities: the national community service program known as AmeriCorps.
"I believe the choice is crystal clear," said Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Stump, an Arizona Republican. He argued that the politically popular veterans facilities are a far higher national priority than the fledgling program that provides young people who volunteer for community service with financial help to meet college expenses.
Although Democrats also voted overwhelmingly for the clinics, many said they were furious that they were being forced to take part in a slap at Mr. Clinton in order to support the veterans.
"This is nothing more than an attack on the president," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat whose home state is slated to get one of the clinics. She had tried to take the money from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration budget, but the Republicans blocked the move.
To ensure passage of the spending cut bill, Republican leaders had to make two concessions before debate began.
Threatened with defections from as many as 30 moderate Republicans, GOP leaders dropped a provision that would tighten restrictions on federally funded abortions for poor women. The provision at issue would allow states to deny Medicaid abortions for women who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest.
The issue is sure to come up for a vote at some point. But Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Baltimore County, one of three Maryland Republicans in the House who supports abortion rights, said the moderates managed to hold the leadership to its promise to delay debate on the issue until the new Congress completes its first frantic 100 days.
To win support from conservative Democrats, House leaders agreed to accept an amendment to the spending cut bill that says none of the money taken from social programs would be used to underwrite the $188 billion package of proposed GOP tax cuts.
Instead, the bill provides $5.4 billion for federal disaster relief, and the rest of the $17 billion cut would go toward reducing the size of the federal deficit.
"It's a good amendment, but it's a shell game unless they spell out what specific cuts will be used to pay for the tax cuts," said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat.
House Budget Committee Chairman John R. Kasich, an Ohio Republican, said he will offer today a list of possible spending cuts to pay for the tax bill.
But no specific decisions are likely to be made until the Appropriations Committee takes up proposals for next year's budget in this spring.
Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Republican who represents the Eastern Shore, said he feared his party was moving too fast on the spending cuts. Among his concerns is a provision that lifts nearly all restrictions from the sale of timber grown on federal lands.
"I want to vote for this bill, but we just don't have enough time to really figure out what the impact of some of this stuff is going to be," he said.