White House, Lawmakers Reach Accord on Omnibus Bill
Washington--Lawmakers reached an agreement with White House officials last week on omnibus education legislation, which is to include provisions allowing funding for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards but not a proposal to create a panel to monitor progress toward national education goals.
Administration officials then joined Congressional backers in the battle to persuade a handful of Republican senators--whose opposition is primarily due to the inclusion of funding for the standards board--to stop holding up floor consideration.
A Senate aide said late last week that the Senate leadership had worked out an agreement allowing for consideration of the bill, but opponents still might try to sabotage its passage.
Aides said the House is prepared to act on the bill as soon as it clears the Senate, and is expected to approve the legislation easily--provided it is not changed.
"If the Senate tacks on obnoxious amendments, we've got a problem," a top Democratic aide in the House said.
Since the Congress is set to adjourn over the weekend, there would be no time for further negotiations; the House would have to accept changes made by the Senate or allow the bill to die.
The House passed its omnibus bill, HR 5115, in July. But the Senate has been prevented by the objections of a few senators from acting on a companion measure, leading some Democrats to charge that the White House was orchestrating the dilatory campaign. (See Education Week, Oct. 17, 1990.)
Although they technically could not meet in conference, since the Senate had not yet passed its bill, House and Senate members nonetheless informally worked out their differences over the legislation, then turned their attention to securing an agreement with the White House in an effort to break the stalemate in the Senate.
Cutting a Deal
Aides said Roger B. Porter, the President's domestic-policy adviser, agreed to accept federal funding of the teacher-standards board, which the Administration had firmly opposed, but at a decreased authorization of $5 million a year for two years. They said lawmakers successfully resisted Mr. Porter's demand that the grant be subject to competition.
The Congressional leaders agreed to decrease the overall funding ceiling for the new programs in the bill from about $925 million to about $800 million, aides said, and to drop two provisions that are strongly opposed by the Administration.
The provision that most bothered Administration officials, aides said, is one that would have required the Education Department to borrow money from the next year's appropriation in years when Pell Grant funds fell short of the amount needed to give maximum grants to all eligible students.
Current law requires that individual grant amounts be reduced if funding is insufficient. The Administration argued that the proposed change in the bill would essentially have transformed the Pell program into an entitlement, and could lead to uncontrolled spending.
Also dropped was the proposal advanced by Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, to create a goals-monitoring panel that would compete with or replace the panel set up by the Administration and the National Governors' Association.
The proposal apparently has significant support in both the House and Senate, however, and one of his aides said Mr. Bingaman plans to continue pressing it next year.
One key supporter is Senator George J. Mitchell of Maine, the majority leader. Aides said Mr. Mitchell sent a letter to the n.g.a. indicating that he would not participate in the organization's monitoring panel, which includes four Congressional representatives as non-voting members.
Mr. Bingaman last week succeeded in adding funding for the goals panel to the appropriations bill covering the Education Department, meaning that it would be available if the panel were authorized next year.
A House-Senate conference committee had agreed to include the funding in its bill, but the Administration persuaded House Republicans to strike it with a procedural move on the House floor.
But Mr. Bingaman prevailed in the Senate, where his was one of several amendments added to the spending bill. The House was expected to consider the changes late last week.
The omnibus bill includes most of President Bush's education initiatives, such as his proposed "merit schools" program, teacher-training initiatives, and literacy programs.
Also in the bill are a demonstration program allowing school districts to be freed from certain federal regulations in exchange for performance agreements, and a program to fund education reforms, including open enrollment.