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Action on Education Bill Seen in Renewed Budget Process

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Washington--While continuing their budget talks with Bush Administration officials, Democratic leaders of the Congress have restarted the budget process on Capitol Hill.

As a result, progress is expected this month on the spending bill that includes education.

Work on the budget was suspended last month when President Bush initiated the negotiations with lawmakers.

But the slow pace of the talks--which as of last week had produced no public agreements--has left Democrats worried that they could be forced to swallow an unpalatable agreement for lack of time to forge a budget in the Congress.

On June 7, House Appropriations Committee leaders decided to begin work on the 13 regular spending bills for fiscal 1991. Their decision on how much money each subcommittee would have to work with was formally ratified by the full panel last week.

The subcommittee that oversees the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education was allotted $52.75 billion--about $8 billion more than the panel had to divide up for 1990.

Although that is a significant hike, education programs will have to compete for the additional funds with other priorities, such as aids research and the child-care program currently being considered by the Congress.

Representative William H. Natcher, the Kentucky Democrat who is chairman of the Labor-h.h.s.-Education Subcommittee, has said that he favors a $4-billion increase for education programs.

The subcommittee has tentatively scheduled a markup this week, and the full Appropriations Committee is expected to take up the bill--and make its figures public--shortly before or shortly after the Fourth of July Congressional recess.

Budget Resolution

Appropriations bills cannot be brought to the floor, however, until the Congress has completed work on a budget resolution setting targets for revenues and spending in broad areas. The House passed a resolution in May, as did the Senate Budget Committee, but lawmakers are far from an agreement on a spending plan for the coming fiscal year.

To allow work to progress, House leaders are expected this week to bring up a "deeming resolution," which will allow appropriators to proceed on the basis of the House-passed resolution, H Con. Res. 129.

That measure would provide $48.7 billion in new spending authority for "Function 500," the category that includes education. It calls for a $2.5-billion increase above inflation for education programs, but those specific recommendations are not binding on appropriators. (See Education Week, May 9, 1990.)

Senate leaders plan to bring a budget resolution to the floor as soon as they fashion a bill that can garner enough votes to pass, according to aides and lobbyists. In fact, a vote had been tentatively set last week.

The problem facing the leaders is that they can only obtain the majority needed to pass the resolution from among the 55 Democratic senators. Republican members have declined to support the measure in deference to the White House's desire to stall the process.

Senate leaders discussed bringing up the House resolution to avoid the need for a House-Senate conference on a spending plan, but could not garner enough support.

The resolution approved by the Senate Budget Committee, which would allot $47.5 billion to Function 500, also would be unlikely to draw a majority, Congressional sources say.

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