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Conference Panel Passes Federal Budget Blueprint

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Washington--A conference committee last week approved 1990 budget guidelines that would provide $41.5 billion for the spending category that includes education.

That is $3.3 billion more than was allocated in 1989 for "Function 500"--which includes education, training, and social-services programs--and about $2.4 billion more than would be needed to keep up with inflation.

Of that amount, $30.2 billion is allotted for discretionary spending, a $3.7-billion increase from 1989 and $2.6 billion above the inflation "baseline."

The compromise allocated Function 500 $800 million more than the version of H.Con. Res. 106 passed by the Senate but $525 million less than the one approved by the House. (See Education Week, May 10, 1989)

While not reaping the windfall included in the House bill, Function 500 would receive the largest real increase of any spending category under the compromise.

"We're reasonably satisfied with it, and we feel they've done the responsible thing," said Gerald Morris, president of the Committee for Education Funding and an associate director of the American Federation of Teachers. "Our concern was really on the outlay side, and they've made significant movement on that."

In addition to providing $1.2 billion less for discretionary budget authority in Function 500 than the House bill, the Senate resolution had allocated $300 million less in outlays--the amount to actually be spent in fiscal 1990.

Most education programs spend the majority of their authorized funds in later years, but Head Start funds are spent more quickly, and advocates expect that a child-care program would work in a similar way.

Consequently, lobbyists feared that the Senate outlay number did not leave enough room for spending on those initiatives. The compromise includes $28.5 billion for discretionary outlays, only $100 million less than the House bill.

A Caution on Spending

The resolution, worked out by Budget Committee leaders and approved by conferees late last week by a unanimous voice vote, must now be ratified by both chambers.

The budget resolution is only a guideline, and appropriations committees are not legally bound to follow it when they allocate funds to specific programs.

Senator Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, the Senate Budget Committee's ranking Republican, made that point repeatedly last week, attempting to discourage conference committee members from offering amendments to shift funds between functions in an effort to benefit particular programs.

"Just because we say here that we want to take money from one function and spend it on, say, education, doesn't mean it will be spent on education," Mr. Domenici said. "It's not necessarily the case, and I can say historically that it's not the case."

"It's something the entire Congress votes on and something that can be pointed to as what the entire Congress feels are important priorities," Mr. Morris countered. "While it's not binding, as a statement of where the Congress as a whole stands, it's influential."

"If you don't get that number up, you're pretty much out of the game" when appropriators begin negotiations, he said.

'High-Priority Programs'

The broad outlines of the resolution available last week do not indicate how much the conferees would like to see allocated to specific programs.

The report accompanying the House bill said the $4.1-billion increase it provides for Function 500 included $1.71 billion to increase spending on education programs above the inflation "baseline," a $317-million increase for Head Start, and $1.8 billion for a new child-care program expected to be enacted this year.

The Senate report said its $3-billion increase for the function includes funding to increase "high-priority education programs" above the baseline and funds for child care, but did not specify amounts.

The resolution approved by conferees compromises on "reconciliation instructions" as well as expenditures.

That part of the bill instructs various committees to make cost-cutting changes in programs in their jurisdictions. Those legislative changes are combined with revenue measures in a reconciliation bill.

The compromise instructs the two chambers' education committees to find $70 million in unspecified savings, which observers say would likely come from the Stafford student-loan program.

The House budget resolution included no savings in the education area, while the Senate voted to instruct its education panel to find $150 million in savings. Aides said senators assumed that much of those savings would come from changes in the loan program.

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