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Postponement of Child-Care Bill Spurs Fears Passage Is Doomed

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WASHINGTON--Congressional leaders have postponed action on child-care legislation until next year, a move advocates warned last week could impede the bill's momentum in the 101st Congress.

"The decision to basically kill the bill for this session has seriously jeopardized the possibility that Congress will pass a major child-care initiative before the 1990 elections," said Michael Edwards, manager of Congressional relations for the National Education Association. "The longer it languishes, the more difficult it will be to reinvigorate it."

Agreement on a child-care package this month by conferees from the House Education and Labor Committee and the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee had bolstered proponents' hope that the Congress could pass a bill before adjourning for the year. (See Education Week, Nov. 15, 1989.)

But House leaders concluded last week that the measure was dead, according to aides, when they were unable to press Ways and Means Committee members to proceed with adding a separate package of tax credits and block grants to the education panels' proposal.

Representatives Thomas J. Downey of New York and George Miller of California, both Democrats, had favored substituting the separate measure--which included an expansion in the earned-income tax credit and an increase in the Title XX Social Services Block Grant--for state child-care grants included in the education panels' agreement.

The state grants--part of a $1.7-billion plan that included funds for school-based child care, Head Start expansion, and child-care standards and training--were included in a part of the pact known as the "act for better child-care services."

Although instructed by the Congressional leadership to finish work on child care by early last week, the Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees had not begun substantive talks on the tax-related portions of the legislation.

But Mr. Downey and Mr. Miller had indicated they would back a motion by Representative Thomas J. Tauke, Republican of Iowa, to instruct the tax panels' conferees to substitute the tax credits and block grants for the ABC grants.

Though House leaders pressed Ways and Means panelists to work for a compromise, aides said, they gave up hope of moving a bill when no accord appeared imminent.

"A conference that needed to reach agreement didn't reach agreement, and therefore there was no package ready to go to the floor," an aide to the House leadership said.

'Sabotage' Charged

Meanwhile, the role played by Mr. Downey and Mr. Miller drew a sharp rebuke from the president of the Children's Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman, who called their support of Mr. Tauke's proposal "the latest in a series of efforts you have engaged in to sabotage ground-breaking child-care legislation all year for petty jurisdictional and power reasons."

"If child-care legislation is not enacted this year, the two of you will deserve the full blame for this tragic and unnecessary outcome," Ms. Edelman wrote in a Nov. 14 memorandum to the two representatives.

Mr. Downey and Mr. Miller issued statements last week maintaining that they had not shunned compromise and saying that they remained confident a child-care bill would pass next year.

"Child care is far too important an issue to be trivialized by personal attacks or misinformation," said Mr. Downey, who is acting chairman of the Human Resources Subcommittee of the Ways and Means panel.

Added Mr. Miller, a member of the subcommittee who also chairs the House Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families, "Genuine differences remain on how to resolve this complicated issue, but they will not be resolved by threats or intimidation."

Other Obstacles Loomed

While acknowledging that divisions in the House helped sour the bill's prospects for this year, Congressional aides and observers noted that the bill faced other hurdles.


"It is also a question of Ways and Means and Finance not sitting down and having a conference on two proposals that are quite different," a House-leadership aide said. The House and Senate tax-credit approaches and funding levels differed, and the Senate bill had no block-grant component.

Other lingering questions included how to combine the education and tax panels' proposals and whether federal vouchers under the legislation could be used to support religious child care--an issue that was left unresolved by conferees and would have been subject to a separate floor vote.

Education groups strongly oppose language in the Senate bill that would permit vouchers to be used for sectarian child care.

Aides to President Bush had also signaled his opposition to some provisions of the legislation.

Even without the Ways and Means dispute, Mr. Edwards of the NEA concluded, "this legislation had an awful long way to go."

He and others maintained, however, that House leaders could have pressed harder to force a compromise on the jurisdictional issues.

"The reality is that House Democratic leadership was unwilling to resolve these differences," Mr. Edwards asserted.

Helen Blank, director of child care for the CDF, said the group continued to lobby Congressional leaders late last week to move the bill in the session's few remaining days. "They still have time," she said.

Because the House initially approved its child-care package as part of a budget-reconciliation bill, putting off the issue means members would have to pass a separate child-care bill next year in order to go to a conference with the Senate.

That would put the leadership in the position of having to determine again how to mesh the competing approaches approved by the Education and Labor Committee and the Ways and Means Committee.

The delay also could rekindle debates on contentious issues and subject the measure to even more severe fiscal constraints, Mr. Edwards said.

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