1983 Budget Debate Will Dominate Post-Election Session of Congress
Washington--Members of Congress returning here next week to begin a three-week, post-election session are expected to spend most of their time on the issue that has dominated the 97th Congress: the federal budget.
Although other education-related measures--including a tuition tax-credit bill, an anti-busing measure, and two bills advancing educational technology--are awaiting action, Congressional staff members said they were uncertain about whether any of the bills would become law this year.
House and Senate members are likely to be preoccupied with the passage of 10 appropriations bills for the fiscal year 1983, including one that provides funds for the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Departments, the staff members said.
Three other "regular" appropriations bills have already been passed by both chambers.
Congressional action is especially difficult to predict during the post-election session, the staff members said, because more than 30 Representatives and three Senators are "lame ducks" who will not return for the 98th Congress next year. The voting patterns the members established during the past two years may change during the post-election session, the staff members said.
The law containing education-program appropriations, known as the Labor-hhs-ed bill, was drawn up by the House Appropriations Committee shortly before the Congress recessed early in October.
The bill contained $85.4 billion for the three departments, with approximately $14.3 billion of that amount earmarked for education programs.
That figure represents a $324.1-million reduction from the Education Department's appropriation for the fiscal year 1982, not accounting for inflation.
But the short length of the session will probably mean that the Congress cannot complete action on all of the pending appropriations bills, the staff members said. Instead, a "continuing resolution"--a measure incorporating several of the appropriations bills--will probably be passed, they said.
Successful passage of certain appropriations bills, including those for the Education Department and the Justice Department, is considered unlikely because so-called "social-issues" amendments--banning busing and abortion, or permitting school prayer--are frequently attached by Congressmen when the bills are brought up for a vote. Because the social-issues amendments spark filibusters that delay action on other measures, a continuing resolution has been necessary during the past three fiscal years, the staff members said.
John F. Jennings, counsel to the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education, predicted last week that the House would have "few problems" passing the Labor-hhs-ed bill.
But he cautioned that "time is working against us. You have to remember that this bill still has to get through the House and then meet with the approval of the Senate. If there are any differences, they'll have to go to conference, and then the bill has to meet with the approval of both chambers again. There are only 15 working days to accomplish that."
But other staff members pointed out that even if the Senate successfully completes action on the education-appropriations bill, it is unlikely that President Reagan will approve it. The bill exceeds the President's request for education funds by approximately $4.4 billion, and Mr. Reagan has previously vetoed bills that he regards as "budget busting."
The Speaker of the House, Thomas P. O'Neill Jr., predicted at a press conference earlier this month that the bill would not be passed because of the likelihood of a filibuster or a veto by the President.
Even if a continuing resolution is enacted, however, its spending levels for education programs will be based on the funds contained in the House Appropriations Committee's bill. The amounts earmarked for specific programs in that bill include:
The Chapter 1 program for educationally disadvantaged students would be funded at $3 billion, which represents a rejection of the Administration's call for a $1.1-billion cut in the program. Chapter 1 received approximately the same amount of money in the fiscal year 1982.
Education programs for handicapped students would receive $1.1 billion under the bill, about $35.1 million more than they received in fiscal 1982 and $258 million more than the President asked the Congress to approve.
The education block-grant program, known as Chapter 2, would receive $483.8 million, $50.8 million more than the President requested.
Impact aid at would be funded at $475 million, $188.1 million above the President's request and $18.8 million more than the program received in 1982.
Adult and vocational education would be funded at $829.5 million, a $94.5-million increase from the fiscal year 1982 and $329.5 million above the President's request.
Bilingual education would receive $138.1 million, the same amount the program received in 1982 and $43.5 million more than the President proposed.
Regarding other education-related action to be taken by the Congress, staff members on the committees responsible for the tuition tax-credit bill supported by the Reagan Administration and the anti-busing measure sponsored by two Senators predicted that neither bill would be enacted.
The anti-busing bill--co-sponsored by Senators Jesse A. Helms, Republican of North Carolina, and J. Bennett Johnston, Democrat of Louisiana--was passed by the Senate, but the House has refused to act on the measure.
"I think it is fair to say that their bill is 'dead' for this session," said a staff member of the House Subcommittee on Courts, Civil Liberties, and the Administration of Justice, which has jurisdiction over the bill.
"There's no support for the measure in the committee," the House staff member said.
The tuition tax-credit bill was approved last summer by the Senate Finance Committee, but it has not been scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor.
No Action Taken
The comparable committee in the House, the Ways and Means Committee, has taken no action on the bill.
Phillip D. Morrison, counsel to the Senate committee, said the Senate leadership is unlikely to bring the bill to the floor because "we're fairly convinced that Senator [Ernest F.] Hollings would mount a filibuster against it." Senator Hollings, Democrat of North Carolina, is the Senate's most vocal opponent of tuition tax credits.
But Mr. Morrison pointed out that if "we wait until next year, the bill will have to be reintroduced, and the whole committee process will have to begin again."
The two technology bills were given a better chance of enactment by staff members representing the committees responsible for them.
One of the bills, HR 5573, would provide tax deductions to computer firms that donate equipment to schools. The measure, which was passed by the House in September, has received the support of the Reagan Administration. (See story on page 10.)
The other bill, known as the "national engineering and science manpower act," was approved by the House Science and Technology Committee in September. It would provide $500 million, over a five-year period, to the National Science Foundation to improve school and college science programs and to help increase the supply of qualified science teachers.
"There's an outside chance that we can get this bill cleared by the House, but then the problem is getting it past the Senate," said a staff member of the House Subcommittee on Science, Research, and Technology.
If the bill is passed by the House of Representatives, it will be referred to the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space, which is chaired by Senator Harrison Schmitt, the Republican of New Mexico who lost his bid for re-election.
"At this point, no one really knows what Senator Schmitt's priorities are," the House staffer said. "Since he's an outgoing member, there may be other pieces of legislation that he may want to see passed before this one."
Attempts to reach Senator Schmitt and his staff on the subcommittee were unsuccessful.
Chances Further Dampened
The House staff member added that the bill's chances for approval have been further dampened because the Administration has already noted its opposition to certain portions of it.
For example, he commented, the bill would create a seven-member advisory panel that would oversee a $60-million "discretionary fund." That money would be granted to schools and colleges that could come up with matching grants from private sources.
"The Administration thinks the new panel would just add another layer of bureaucracy to the system," the staffer said. "We think that there's a need for coordination of this fund."