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A last-ditch attempt to save House funding for one of President Clinton's favorite programs was defeated by Republicans who say it's silly to pay students to do volunteer work.

Just before midnight Wednesday, Democrats got unexpected support from a key Republican - Rep. Jerry Lewis of California - for a bid to restore $367 million set aside for the AmeriCorps community service program to an $84 billion spending bill.But the House rejected that idea 240-183.

At the request of Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., the House by voice vote agreed to transfer $40 million in AmeriCorps money to programs providing medical care to veterans and to use the remaining $327 million to reduce the deficit.

Tiahrt said using grants to induce students to perform volunteer work doesn't make any sense.

"It takes money from programs that could be very valuable," he said. "Let's not fool ourselves into thinking AmeriCorps has anything to do with true voluntarism or true citizenship."

AmeriCorps has been a target of Republicans ever since it was created in 1993.

Later, the House voted 269-147 to approve the overall bill, which the Clinton administration has opposed, saying it provides too little money for some programs.

The bill would allocate about $6.5 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency and more than $17.3 billion to the Veterans Administration. It also sets aside nearly $19.7 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, $1.32 billion for Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief and $13.6 billion for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee approved without dissent the smallest of the 13 spending bills that finance the federal government - a measure providing $1.68 billion for the legislative branch.

The funding to run Congress and related offices was $37 million less than in 1996 and included elimination of 715 full-time positions.

Paradoxically, the vote scrapping AmeriCorps came shortly after another attempt to eliminate the program was rejected 240-183.

Lewis - chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's veterans and housing subcommittee - said he felt some House members may have reversed their votes in the second tally out of concern the public would think they were voting against medical care for veterans.

The proposal that was rejected would have simply eliminated all of AmeriCorps' funds.

Some AmeriCorps money could be restored during negotiations with the Senate after that chamber completes work on a matching spending bill, Lewis said.