BUDGET: GOP Seeks To Offset Highway Spending With Aid Cuts
Congressional Republicans "want to cut Medicaid, food stamps and social service programs" in an effort to pay for a bipartisan $210 billion transportation bill "that exceeds budget limits," the New York Times reports. House and Senate negotiators are currently working out a compromise between their respective transportation bills, and legislators involved in the negotiations have compiled a list of potential cuts to pay for the bill. A total of $19 billion in possible cuts are outlined, including "at least $1.9 billion from Medicaid, $3 billion from social service programs, $1.7 billion from food stamps or welfare and $10.5 billion from medical and other benefits for veterans with illnesses related to smoking."
The National Governors' Association has already declared "strong, unalterable opposition to any reductions in the federal government's commitment" to Medicaid and welfare. The governors expressed concern that without the funds, states would no longer be able to "enroll children in Medicaid, inspect nursing homes, investigate health care fraud and perform other tasks mandated by the federal Medicaid law." Veterans' groups reacted similarly to the proposed cuts. "The American people don't want to improve their highways by taking disability compensation away from sick veterans," said Anthony Jordan, national commander of the American Legion. The Paralyzed Veterans of America has begun running radio ads stating: "To those in Congress who want to pick the pockets of sick and disabled veterans, here's our advice: Stop robbing veterans' programs."
Hands Are Tied
The Times notes that the transportation bill spends "substantially more than the amount sought by President Clinton or envisioned in the bipartisan budget agreement adopted last year." Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) noted that the added spending for highways "would force reductions in other domestic programs financed from" discretionary appropriations accounts. Lewis said, "Under today's budget constraint, $218 billion is simply too much. It is too much asphalt, too much money to take away from children, the elderly, veterans and the needy. Are we prepared to choose concrete over children, bridges over books, pavement over people?" But Robert Stevenson, spokesperson for Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee, said Republicans "are trying to do the responsible thing" by finding cuts to offset the higher-than-expected highway spending. "If people have other ideas, if anybody has a list in his coat pocket, we'd be happy to see it," he said (Pear, 5/12).