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Cavazos Budget Position Meets Skepticism on Capitol Hill

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Washington--Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos faced hostile questioning on Capitol Hill last week from lawmakers who said the Bush Administration had not clearly stated its position on education funding.

But they said they suspected, nevertheless, that the Administration was not asking for enough.

When told that Mr. Bush had "made it clear" that education is a budget priority, Representative David R. Obey, Democrat of Wisconsin, summed up the Democratic attitude.

"He may have made it clear to you, but it's as clear as mud to me," Mr. Obey said, calling Mr. Bush's plan "folderol" and a "deception."

In hearings before the House Budget Committee and the House subcommittee that oversees education appropriations, Mr. Cavazos and Charles E.M. Kolb, deputy undersecretary for planning, budget, and evaluation, maintained that the Administration supports the $21.9-billion budget request submitted by President Reagan, with the addition of $441 million in new initiatives proposed Feb. 9 by President Bush.

"Pending the outcome of negotiations with Congress, we are treating the Reagan budget proposals as if they were Bush proposals," Mr. Cavazos said.

Richard G. Darman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told the Budget Committee that the Administration supports the Reagan budget's approach of cutting or eliminating some programs and shifting additional money to such areas as compensatory educationand programs for the handicapped, which he said are Bush priorities.

However, Mr. Darman also said the Bush Administration would not propose funding levels for specific discretionary education programs, leaving that to be decided in negotiations with the Congress. That position places education programs in the "black box" of domestic programs that Mr. Bush proposed freezing at the total 1989 outlay level of $136 billion.

"The [Bush Administration] position is either one or the other," said Representative Leon Panetta, the California Democrat who chairs the Budget Committee. "Are you supporting a freeze for these programs or are you supporting the Reagan cuts for these programs?"

Mr. Darman "unequivocally stat8ed" he "couldn't give us specific numbers," said Representative Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California. ''Now you come before us and tell us you have numbers--the Reagan numbers plus the Bush initiatives. That's a total contradiction in 24 hours."

Mr. Kolb conceded that education programs were in the "negotiable" pool. But he insisted that was not incompatible with the Education Department's continued support of the Reagan budget, noting that it would freeze overall spending at approximately the 1989 level.

"You are creating a false dichotomy," he said.

Mr. Kolb also advised both committees that "ambiguity is part of the budget process."

Representative William F. Goodling, Republican of Pennsylvania, defended the education officials, stating: "I understand exactly what you're doing, and I don't understand how anybody doesn't."

But his gop colleagues chose to divert the discussion to other subjects, such as student-loan defaults. (See story on page 16.)

In an interview after the budget hearing, Mr. Panetta said he still was not sure of the Administration's position on education--or anything else.

"I have a sense that we'll see the same approach from other Secretaries that we saw today," he said.

Even if the Administration settled on a clear interpretation, it would not be likely to satisfy Congressional Democrats.

They noted that adding the new Bush proposals to the Reagan budget for education produces only a 2 percent increase--from $21.9 billion to about $22.4 billion. That would not keep up with inflation, they said, and little of it would go to existing programs.

"This is like saying you're for a new lifeboat but you're not particularly concerned with patching the holes in the ship," Mr. Panetta said.

Democrats also attacked the "negotiation" approach as an attempt to avoid making proposals for cuts to offset the cost of Mr. Bush's new initiatives.

"I understand the game that's being played," said Representative Marty A. Russo, Democrat of Illinois. "You don't want to be specific."

Representative Dale Kildee, Democrat of Michigan, said the $136-billion "black box" is more like a "piranha pool," because "for one program to grow it's got to take a bite out of another program."

Several lawmakers noted that education programs could fare especially poorly in such a competition because they are forward-funded, meaning that money appropriated in one year is not spent as outlays until the next year. That means freezing outlays would require steep cuts in budget authority.

The omb provided the budget panel with estimates indicating that 1990 budget authority for elementary- and secondary-education programs would have to be cut from about $9.7 billion in 1989 to about $6.5 billion in 1990 in order to freeze 1990 outlays at 1989 levels--sharply decreasing outlays for 1991.

That would happen only if the $136-billion total were arrived at by treating all programs the same, Sally H. Christensen, director of the Education Department's budget service, told the budget panel.

"I don't think anyone would recommend this approach," she said. "These figures in no way represent the priority the President has put on education."

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