WASHINGTON -- The Democratic-led House is trying to seize the Republican "family values" theme by approving new federal spending on child welfare and food programs and imposing a 10 percent surtax on millionaires to pay for them.
Opponents charged that the measure, adopted on a 256-163 roll-call vote yesterday with relatively few Republican votes, was an election-year ploy that would be vetoed by President Bush if it were passed by Congress. The legislation faces an uncertain fate in the Senate.
Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st, was the only member of Maryland's delegation to vote against the measure.
The bill would impose a 10 percent surtax on the portion of an individual's income above $1 million, or that part above $500,000 for married persons filing separately.
"Tax and spend is alive and well as the credo of the majority in this Congress," Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, said.
But the bill's Democratic sponsors said that the additional funds are essential to keep families intact, prevent unnecessary foster care placements and target the special needs of children exposed to drugs or those who are in high-risk homes.
"There is a lot of talk about family values in this election year," said Rep. Leon Panetta, D-Calif., co-sponsor of the bill. "But it doesn't mean much if we continue to allow the national shame of hunger among our children."
The bill would create a new entitlement program for child welfare services that would be automatically included in the federal budget each year, rather than voted upon by Congress as part of the regular appropriations process.
Under the existing system, backers of the legislation said, the demand for services has increased sharply but the funds available have not kept pace.
"There has been an explosion in out-of-wedlock births, use of crack, homelessness and AIDS that requires us to devote more resources to this problem," said Rep. Tom Downey, D-N.Y., a co-sponsor.
Mr. Downey cited figures showing that the poverty rate among children has increased from 15.9 percent in 1978 to 20.6 percent in 1990 and that the number of children in foster care nationally has jumped from 273,500 in 1986 to 407,000 in 1990.
The legislation would channel federal grants to states and local governments for child welfare programs, expand food stamp eligibility for families with children and authorize another $70 million for the emergency food assistance program.