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Senate Panels Weigh Alternatives To Law Requiring Smaller Deficits

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Washington--Even as a missed deadline under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law triggered across-the-board cuts in federal spending last week, the Senate was beginning to weigh alternatives to the increasingly unpopular measure.

Opening what is expected to be a lengthy debate, two Senate panels held a hearing Oct. 18 on some of the approximately 100 proposals to scrap or modify the deficit-reduction law that have been introduced during this session of the Congress.

Nine senators, testifying before the joint hearing of the Senate Budget and Governmental Affairs committees, called for a variety of changes in the budget process, including:

Streamlining the process by restructuring the committee system;

Removing the Social Security Trust Fund from the rest of the budget so that the surplus in the fund would no longer help obscure the full extent of the deficit;

Granting the President line-item-veto power.

Although some of the proposals are designed to work in tandem with Gramm-Rudman, most of the sponsors seemed willing to contemplate scrapping the 1985 law.

They appeared to agree with the budget panel's chairman, Senator James Sasser of Tennessee, who said Gramm-Rudman "is teetering on the verge of becoming more a part of the problem than part of the solution."

Meanwhile, at least one influential education lobbyist has also joined in the debate.

Testifying this month at a House hearing called by the Subcommittee on Legislation and National Security and the Government Operations Committee, Susan Frost, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, argued that education would be hard hit by a proposed extension of the Gramm-Rudman law beyond 1993, its original target date for eliminating the deficit.

The law's provisions triggering automatic cuts when deficit-reduction goals are not otherwise met, she said, are "totally inequitable when it comes to our programs."

Echoing the sentiments of many senators who testified last week, Ms. Frost also maintaind that an overhaul of the budget process would be unlikely to result in a significant increase in fiscal restraint.

"The process is not the problem," she said in an interview. "The reduction of the deficit in the real sense takes political courage."--pw

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