Budget Battle Not Yet Won, Lobbyists Are Warned
Washington--Education lobbyists were advised by members of the House and Senate last week to reevaluate their assumption that Congress is certain to spare federal education programs from further budget cuts during the 1983 fiscal year.
"Don't assume that education is safe this year. It's still a wide open ball game and nothing is certain," Representative Leon E. Panetta, Democrat of California and a member of the House Budget Committee, told members of the Committee for Education Funding. Mr. Panetta was referring to the apparent sup-port of many Congressmen for federal education programs this year, which he contrasted to the large-scale budget reductions and program consolidations the Congress passed last year.
"If you aren't willing to continue lobbying, promises that Congressmen make to you now won't mean a damn thing."
Members of the committee, a coalition of more than 80 education, labor, religious, and child-advocacy groups, met here for two days to discuss strategies for combating the Reagan Administration's proposal to reduce federal funds for the Education Department from $14.8 billion to $9.95 billion in two years.
The group, which was founded in 1969 as the Emergency Committee for Full Funding of Education Programs, also held a benefit dinner to honor its founder, Charles Lee. Mr. Lee is retiring this year as the group's executive director.
Representative Panetta reminded the committee members that they are a special-interest group, and that effective special-interest groups are those that make their presence known.
"The squeaky wheels draw grease," he said. "You have to learn how to squeak a little louder."
Congressional and White House negotiators, Representative Panetta said, were locked last week "in a game of budget chicken" with neither side willing to make substantial concessions to the other.
'Long Way' from Agreement
"The stories that you've been reading in the press have been overly hyped," he said. "We are a long, long way from an agreement."
He told the group, however, that the White House and Congressional budget conferees are leaning toward an agreement on the federal government's fiscal 1983 budget that would freeze discretionary spending, including funds for education, at the fiscal 1982 level.
That agreement, if it becomes law, will provide $13 billion for education programs.
"But don't be satisfied with promises of a frozen level of funding,'' he added. "This is still a bargaining game and anything's liable to happen."
Senator Thomas F. Eagleton, Democrat of Missouri, echoed Representative Panetta's caveat.
"The word 'freeze' can take on a strange power because it's simple, direct, and easy for people to understand," Senator Eagleton explained.
"But before long, people begin to say, 'Well, we'll freeze everything except for this array of programs,' and before you realize it, the entire bargain begins to unravel," he said.
Senator Eagleton also warned the committee members to pay close attention to President Reagan's recent call to establish a system of tuition tax credits for parents with children in private schools.
"One has to assume that when the President makes a recommendation such as that one so vigorously, it is not an exercise in futility," he said. "You cannot afford to treat his proposal as an innocuous frill that stands no chance of passage."