It's Not Just for Flood Relief

How a $50 million jobs plan for youths made it into Midwest disaster package

WHAT do Midwestern farmers and unemployed young men in South Central Los Angeles have in common? Not much. But both are beneficiaries of the $3 billion flood-relief bill the House passed last week.

The tale of how that came to pass says a great deal about the murky ways in which Congress makes laws.

The key mover in the drama was Rep. Maxine Waters (D), a fiery liberal representing South Central Los Angeles. Last year, Congress passed authorizing legislation for her Youth Fair Chance Program, designed to provide a lineup of job-training services for 14-to-30-year-olds in high-poverty areas.

This year, President Clinton included $250 million for the program in his $16.3 billion economic-stimulus plan. But that bill was killed by a Republican filibuster in the Senate. The only part salvaged was $320 million for summer jobs, passed by Congress in late June. As part of that "supplemental" appropriation, the Youth Fair Chance Program received $50 million.

Ms. Waters thought her program had been launched. But when aides read the fine print, they found that the language did not include a $100-per-week stipend for participants and a ratio of 1 caseworker per 25 participants. "If you don't have those provisions, people will just drop out of the program," says Patrick Lacefield, a spokesman for Waters.

Republican members of the conference committee that approved the summer-jobs program say those provisions were left out because they were too controversial. But Waters and House leaders contend that their exclusion was an oversight.

Rep. William Natcher (D) of Kentucky, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, had assured the leadership that "Mrs. Waters would be taken care of in the summer-jobs bill," says George Crawford, staff director of the House Rules Committee. "When that did not happen, the leadership looked for the next possible opportunity to rectify the mistake."

And the next bill coming up for House consideration was ... the flood-relief measure! So the House Rules Committee crafted a clever rule - a measure setting terms of debate on a bill - for the flood-relief package. One provision was that, when House members approved the flood-relief rule, they would insert the Waters amendment into the $3 billion measure.

But Republicans threw a monkey wrench into the scheme. When the flood-relief bill's rule came up July 22, Republicans and conservative Democrats attacked the measure because it did not allow for a cost-savings amendment to pay for the flood relief. They also went after the Waters amendment.

Republicans poked fun at the Youth Fair Chance Program for defining "youths" as those aged 14 to 30. They charged that the measure "to help 30-year-old teenagers" was included as a political payoff for Waters's support of the president's budget - a charge adamantly denied by the congresswoman. "This is exactly the kind of thing that gets the House in trouble," declared Rep. Robert Walker (R) of Pennsylvania. "It ought to be rejected."

Rejected it was. But after the House adjourned for the weekend, lawmakers were pilloried by Midwesterners upset that they hadn't gotten their flood-relief money. Democrats pointed the finger at Republicans, charging that the Waters brouhaha was a "smokescreen" for Republicans' unwillingness to run up the deficit to help the Midwest. GOP congressmen replied that it was the Democrats' fault for gumming up an otherwise-acceptable measure with an extra amendment.

But the House leadership held firm, refusing to drop the Waters amendment from the flood-relief bill. In the end, it was the GOP that caved in, allowing the flood-relief measure to pass intact July 27. A GOP amendment that would have knocked out the Youth Fair Chance amendment was rejected by a 226-to-201 vote.

That's not the story's end, of course. The Senate must pass its version of the flood-relief legislation. Since the Senate bill does not contain the Waters amendment, the measure's fate will be decided in a House-Senate conference committee that will meet soon.

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