Lawmakers Assail as 'Scurrilous' Tactics by Education Lobbyists

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WASHINGTON--Several members of the Congressional committees that oversee social-service spending last week criticized education lobbyists here for using what one member termed "pressure tactics" to protect education funding increases.

The remarks came as House and Senate members of the conference committee on the fiscal 1992 appropriations bill for labor, health, and education programs convened for their final session. (See related story on this page.)

Representative David R. Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat who is usually seen as an advocate for education programs, raised the issue.

Mr. Obey said that an educator from his state, working from information received from the Committee for Education Funding, had complained to him that the House and Senate appropriations chairmen "had gone into a backroom deal to make cuts in education."

"It is scurrilous and outrageous for a so-called education lobby to wind up attacking their friends, and if they don't have friends on this committee, they don't have any," said Mr. Obey, who is well known for his blunt language.

"I have had a belly-full of any lobby that tells only a quarter of the truth," he added.

'Action Alert' Faulted

Mr. Obey's complaint centered on an "action alert" that the C.E.F., an umbrella group of education organizations, had sent to its state affiliates, urging them to contact conferees and ask them to "reject any further cuts in education programs."

Mr. Obey said the C.E.F. misrepresented the situation, by failing to make clear both that the cuts were actually proposed reductions in increases already afforded education programs in a preliminary agreement, and that other programs in the bill would be cut.

'When I get lobbied this way my instinct is not to roll over and give them what they want; my instinct is to push back hard," he said.

Mr. Obey did not mention the C.E.F. by name, but he referred to a letter written by the group's president, Edward R. Kealy, and an aide later said Mr. Obey was talking about the C.E.F.

Mr. Obey's sentiments were echoed, in less acerbic tones, by Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and his counterpart in the House, William H. Natcher, Democrat of Kentucky.

Mr. Harkin, who dismayed education advocates by proposing to meet budget targets primarily by reducing preliminary marks for education programs, said he had been approached by a lobbyist who said the conferees were gutting education funding.

"Maybe they need to understand what we're talking about here," Mr. Harkin said.

Higher Allocation Urged

Mr. Natcher said he is unaffected by lobbying tactics, which he described as being "like water on a duck's back"to him.

The advocacy group also urged Mr. Natcher to request a higher allocation from the full committee. The allocation sets the amount of discretionary spending available to an appropriations subcommittee.

Mr. Obey also attacked that idea, and noted that when he and Mr. Harkin earlier had sought to transfer allocations from defense, "I didn't see them getting off their fat duffs."

"I just want to say these people aren't welcome in my office unless they start telling the truth," he said.

C.E.F. officials noted that their "action alert" did accurately explain the situation at the conference, although it contained such inflammatory language as "Conference numbers in free fall!"

"The budget-enforcement act has put us all in a box we're not comfortable in," Mr. Kealy said when asked about Mr. Obey's remarks.

Mr. Kealy added in jest, "He may not be our friend now, but I hope he's still a friend of education."

Vol. 11, Issue 10, Pages 22, 25

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