Abortion Rider Holds E.D. Budget Hostage
Washington--Congressional conferees have hammered out a 1989 appropriations agreement that would provide $21.7 billion for the Education Department and boost discretionary education spending by a modest $887 million over 1988--if the legislation can survive a House-Senate conflict over federal funding for abortions.
Both chambers are expected to take up the legislation, HR 4783, in coming weeks.
But the conferees adjourned without resolving their most contentious dispute: whether the bill would contain a provision restoring Medicaid funding for abortions in cases of rape and incest.
The Senate had approved the provision after lengthy debate and the addition of an amendment that would require a victim to report the rape or incest "promptly" to qualify for federal money.
Both Sides Adamant
Senate conferees, led by Senator Lowell P. Weicker Jr., Republican of Connecticut, refused to cede their position, and House conferees were equally adamant in their opposition to the provision.
Representative William H. Natcher, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, argued that the full House was unlikely to accept any such abortion language, and that President Reagan would veto any bill containing it.
"You know, I know, that if this bill is in a continuing resolution, you can wipe out about a third of what we've agreed on," said the Kentucky Democrat, noting that a stalled funding bill for Labor, hhs, and ed could be forced into a catch-all resolution that might bear the brunt of last-minute budget cuts.
But the conferees agreed to disagree, and the two chambers will essentially vote on different bills. The measure could float in legislative limbo until one chamber votes to accept the other's position or conferees reconvene and resolve the issue.
Budget Law May Be Triggered
Another threat to the bill's 1989 spending proposals looms in the form of automatic cuts under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-control law, which could be triggered if the projected federal deficit reaches $146 billion.
The Office of Management and Budget recently estimated the 1989 deficit at $145.3 billion, only $700 million below the trigger point. But that slim cushion would be sufficient unless the Congress approves additional spending be4fore omb issues its final report on the 1989 deficit Oct. 15.
Agreement on Other Issues
In contrast to the heated debate on the abortion-funding issue, Senate conferees quickly agreed to drop provisions, attached to the Senate bill by conservatives, banning aids-education materials that present homosexuality as "natural, normal, or healthy," and prohibiting abortion referrals by school-based clinics.
House conferees protested, but accepted, a Senate amendment raising from $250,000 to $340,000 the minimum amount small states would receive in concentration grants under Chapter 1. Senate conferees argued that the one-year change is needed to prevent three states from receiving less Chapter 1 money in 1989 than they did in 1988.
Concentration grants are designed to flow to districts with the highest proportions of poor students. The formula was a point of contention throughout deliberations on the recent reauthorization bill that created the grants.
Downward Moves on Funding
The $21.7 billion the bill would provide for education is $500 million more than the Administration requested, but less than education advocates had hoped for. The original Senate bill would have provided $20 million more and the House bill $212 million more.
Because of differing allocations among subcommittees, the Senate Labor-hhs-ed subcommittee had only $39.4 billion to dole out to discretionary programs, $300 million less than its House counterpart.
While conferees agreed to work within a compromise discretionary "budget authority" total of $39.59 billion, they had to make a 1.13 percent across-the-board cut to conform with Senate restrictions on outlays, the amount actually to be spent in fiscal 1989.
The result is a bill that includes about $39.35 billion in discretionary budget authority, less than either original bill, and $150 million less than the Administration requested.
While the bill's education allocation is higher than the President's request, it would provide less than requested for a number of programs, including Chapter 2 block grants, research, and the new Fund for the Improvement of Schools and Teaching.
Several other programs, including magnet-schools aid, bilingual education, and the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program, were pushed below the funding level requested by the Administration after the across-the-board cut was made by conferees.