Momentum Builds for Budget Revisions Favoring Education
WASHINGTON--Momentum continued to build on Capitol Hill last week for a reordering of federal budgetary priorities that could benefit education programs, following in the wake of President Bush's recent statement indicating that he might accept such revisions.
Mr. Bush, who had previously ruled out renegotiating the 1990 budget pact governing federal spending, said earlier this month that he would consider changes that would allow savings in defense spending to be used for domestic programs and tax breaks.
"There may be room for some maneuvering there," Mr. Bush said in an interview broadcast on public television.
The President said, "There are ways to live within the [overall] caps and then juggle around."
Such juggling would require legislation modifying the current agreement between the Administration and the Congress, which set spending caps on defense, domestic, and international spending accounts and prohibited transfers between them.
However, after the collapse of the former Soviet Union, lawmakers began to clamor for reductions in defense spending.
In the interview, the President confirmed that Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney was considering proposals for some $50 million in defense cuts in addition to current reduction plans.
Mr. Bush's remarks created a flurry of excitement in the Congress, where two prominent lawmakers added a new proposal to the growing stack of plans to revamp the budget agreement and allocate the resulting windfall.
A day after the interview was broadcast, Senators Jim Sasser, the Tennessee Democrat who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, and Paul S. Sarbanes, the Maryland Democrat who chairs the Joint Economic Committee, announced a new economic-recovery proposal that includes allowing transfers between spending accounts and using defense dollars for such domestic programs as education.
The senators also call for grants or loans to state and local governments to prevent further cuts in education and other programs.
Education advocates said last week that modifications in the budget agreement are essential.
"It's an imperative," said Richard A. Kruse, the director of government relations for the National Association of Secondary School Principals. "If the firewalls between defense and non-defense discretionary programs are allowed to stand, then the will of the people will have been thwarted."
"If it stands, it will hurt us greatly, and it will ignore a changing world," he said. Most of the plans advanced by Democrats to date for redirecting the federal budget call for more spending on education. (See Education Week, Sept. 25, 1991.)
Observers agree that, unless the budget agreement is revamped, huge cuts in domestic programs would be required to meet the caps for fiscal year 1993.
Lawmakers compounded the problem in an effort to stay within the caps for fiscal 1992.
In drafting a funding bill for the departments of labor, health and human services, and education, appropriators stayed within the caps in part by providing that $4.3 billion in spending included in the bill would not actually be spent until fiscal 1993. As a result, that spending is counted against the much tighter 1993 caps, worsening the situation.
Education lobbyists said their task will be ensuring that the President's change of heart means increased funding for domestic programs rather than deficit reduction or tax breaks.