E.D. Budget Draws Bipartisan Fire in Senate
Washington--Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education voiced their disapproval last week of the Reagan Administration's fiscal 1983 budget proposals for education programs.
Members of the subcommittee, which has responsibility for recommending funding levels for the Education Department (ed) to the full Appropriations Committee, added their comments to the rising Congressional criticism of the President's plan to reduce the department's budget from $14.8 billion in the current school year to $9.95 billion in fiscal 1983.
Some of the strongest statements came from Senator Lowell P. Weicker, Republican of Connecticut, who also sits on the Committee on Labor and Human Resources.
Mr. Weicker, a longtime supporter of federal programs to aid handicapped children, charged that Jean Tufts, ed's assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services, was a "poor advocate for the handicapped" in presenting a plan to reduce funding for education of the handicapped from more than $1 billion to $800 million.
"This is the most callous exercise I've ever had to sit through since I've been in Washington," the Senator said.
"I know of no one in this country who wants one nickel taken away from the handicapped. Not one person expects another burden to be taken on by the handicapped. You want to take that bet?" he asked.
Senator Weicker was particularly critical of the Administration's proposal to consolidate the department's rehabilitation-services program into a block grant to the states. He also criticized the Reagan Administration's contention that private industries would assume some of the responsibility for the vocational rehabilitation and training of handicapped people.
"What makes you think [private industries] will do it now when they didn't do it in the first instance?" Senator Weicker asked.
The Administration's proposal to reduce funds for impact aid came under fire from three Senators representing Western states--James Abdnor, Republican of South Dakota, Mark Andrews, Republican of North Dakota, and Quentin N. Burdick, Democrat of North Dakota.
Senator Andrews accused the Administration of harboring an "anti-rural bias" that "tilted so much toward Western states. Is it fair to children of military personnel that they receive less quality education than nonmilitary?" he asked, adding that school systems in his state are "desperate."
Senator Burdick asked Monika Harrison, ed's acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, whether impact aid is a federal obligation.
Ms. Harrison replied that "states and localities do receive some benefits from the presence of military bases in the way of employment opportunities."
'No Transition Period'
Senator Mark O. Hatfield, the Republican chairman of the Appropriations Committee, questioned the wisdom of another Administration proposal--to eliminate the $84-million program that provides funds to municipal, college, and research libraries.
"There's been no transition period for the state and local officials to plan for their new financial responsibilities," he said. "They have not had an opportunity to supplement or supplant those resources that are being taken away."
Senator Hatfield said that although he considered President Ronald Reagan's "new federalism" proposal "very exciting," he was concerned that the failure to provide a transition period for the libraries would "undermine the credibility of the President of the United States and 'new federalism."'
The library programs, he said, "are not being phased out, but 'excised' from rural and community libraries that have depended on those funds. There has to be some understanding given, a transition period provided."
The Senators also expressed concern over plans to reduce funding for the Title I program, which aids low-income and educationally disadvantaged students.
"You're talking somewhere in the neighborhood of a 25-percent cut, yet you say that the same number of students will receive the same benefits from the program.... Magic, magic. It seems a bit questionable," said Senator Andrews.
Ms. Harrison replied that some school districts "have developed ways of doing things less expensively now than in the beginning of the program. We plan to disseminate information on cost-effective practices.''
Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, also took the ed officials to task for proposing budget rescissions for programs in fiscal 1982.
"State legislatures are now in session, and many of them are almost ready to adjourn," he said. "They've prepared their budgets, taking into account the funding levels that we set for 1982. Now you're proposing rescissions. What are they supposed to do?
"To those people, that represents a de facto breaking of a commitment," he continued.
"I wish you would just leave 1982 alone and get around to business on 1983. How can we get to next year's problems if we keep fighting last year's battle over and over again?"
In a related development, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education voted against an Administration proposal to prevent college graduate students from borrowing under the Guaranteed Student Loan (gsl) financial aid program effective April 1 this year.
Subcommittee members also voted to increase the fiscal 1982 allocation for the gsl program by $1.3 billion, almost $322 million more than the Administration had requested. ed officials had asked for a $978-million supplemental allocation for the program, which would have raised its total cost this year to $2.75 billion.
That amount, however, would be restricted to loans for undergraduate students only under the Administration's proposal. Graduate students would be forced to borrow under a new auxiliary loan program, which provides funds at a higher interest rate.
The students also would have to begin making interest payments on the loans while still in school.
Representative William H. Natcher, Democrat of Kentucky and chairman of the appropriations subcommittee, told ed officials that he thought that they were making "a serious mistake."
"I told [ed Secretary Terell H.] Bell the other day that you are real-ly hurting the people who voted for the President," Representative Natcher said.
"You're setting things up so that only the very rich or the very poor can afford to go to college. The guy who's father works in a shop is the one who is being left out."
Representative Joseph D. Early, Democrat of Massachusetts, called the Administration's proposal "a bureaucratic nightmare."
"Your whole approach is to penalize middle-income families for the abuses of a few rich persons," he said. "By putting the squeeze on these families, you're saying that higher education is no longer a major national interest."