O'Neill Criticizes Debt-Reduction Bill
Washington--House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill last week sharply criticized a Senate-passed deficit-reduction measure that could drastically reduce federal education spending.
But he endorsed the bill's main concept, which provides for automatic budget cuts in certain situations.
Education lobbyists based here, fearful of the bill's potential impact, are trying to promote opposition to the legislation and are exhorting local school officials to convey their concerns to their Congressional representatives.
Meanwhile, a House-Senate conference committee met for the first time last week to try to negotiate a compromise version. Congressional Democrats, led by Mr. O'Neill, oppose several major points of the Senate bill--particularly language giving broad authority to the President to order spending cuts if the annual deficit exceeds a limit set by the bill and if the Congress cannot agree on reductions.
The conference is expected to last at least several weeks.
The House Speaker said that because the deficit ceiling is so high next year--an election year--Republicans will gain political credit for acting to reduce the deficit but that no automatic, and unpopular, cuts will be necessary.
"I want to make it clear and unmistakable that if we are to have an emergency deficit act, then as far as I am concerned it should take effect like an emergency act--now, not later; this year, not next," said Mr. O'Neill, in a speech here to the American Stock Exchange.
"Do we have to be mandatory about" spending cuts, as the Senate bill provides, he asked. "Apparently, yes."
The Massachusetts Democrat added, however, that "two-thirds of the budget is exempt from the automatic cuts," a fact that education lobbyists cite to buttress their view that school-related programs could be hard-hit if the bill becomes law.