Congress Nears Approval of Fiscal 1990 E.D. Funding Bill
Washington--The Congress neared final approval late last week of legislation providing 1990 funding for the Education Department, and was poised to begin consideration of a budget-reconciliation bill needed to reverse the automatic cuts triggered last month under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-reduction law.
On voice votes, both chambers approved HR 3566, the appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, after bitter debate on the issue of abortion.
The bill contains the same funding levels found in HR 2990, which President Bush vetoed because it contained language allowing federal funding of abortions for victims of rape and incest.
Abortion-rights advocates conceded that they could not muster the two-thirds majority needed to override the President's veto and allowed passage of a bill retaining current restrictions.
Final passage was delayed, however, when senators attached several amendments to the House bill, none of them relating to education. Aides say the only controversial measure is one sponsored by Senator Jesse A. Helms, Republican of North Carolina, designed to increase restrictions on so-called "dial-a-porn" services.
A House appropriations aide said lawmakers planned to bring a new bill to the floor, probably over the weekend, rather than stage a conference with the senators.
The Congress was also scheduled to work over the weekend on the reconciliation bill, which Mr. Bush has threatened to veto if it does not meet his specifications.
The reconciliation bill includes legislative changes and tax provisions that would trim the deficit, but most observers said the savings would probably not be sufficient to allow complete restoration of the Gramm-Rudman "sequestration."
Lawmakers reportedly are negotiating a deal under which the cuts would be effective for only part of the year, resulting in a cut less severe than the 5.3 percent bite inflicted by the full sequester.
The sequester cut about $1 billion from the Education Department budget, which would be set at $24.4- billion by HR 3566 and a separate bill that provided additional funding for drug-education programs.
Some of the reconciliation bill's savings would come from student-loan programs. Aides said the education provisions, worked out late last week, would primarily restrict borrowing under the Supplemental Loans for Students program, a less-subsidized program intended to help students whose needs are not totally met by Guaranteed Student Loans.
Angered by high default rates of proprietary-school students, who receive 85 percent of sls loans, some House members proposed making first-year students ineligible. That move would have cut out most trade schools, which generally offer short programs.
"If we don't do something now, the appropriations committees will do it for us," Representative William D. Ford, Democrat of Michigan, said at a conference on the reconciliation provisions.
He referred to statements by appropriators that they provided modest funding for student aid this year largely because they are angry about default rates.
The final conference agreement would require sls borrowers to have a high-school diploma; set lower borrowing levels for shorter programs; require first-time borrowers to wait 30 days for their loans; and eliminate from the program schools with a default rate above 30 percent. It would also establish an amnesty program for student-loan defaulters.