House Budget Panel Approves $15-Billion Peace Dividend
The House Budget Committee last week approved a budget resolution that calls for a $15-billion reduction in defense spending, and includes two different options for the use of those savings. One option would devote all of the defense savings, more than double what President Bush has proposed, to deficit reduction, while the other would split the savings between deficit reduction and domestic programs, yielding a more generous allotment for education. But that scenario depends on a revision of the 1990 Budget Enforcement Act, which is far from assured. The resolution was approved on a voice vote that appeared to fall along party lines, with Democrats supporting the measure and Republicans opposed.
Under the scenario focused on deficit reduction, known as Plan B, the committee recommends that Education Department programs and Head Start receive increases equal to what President Bush proposed, $1.7 billion and $600 million, respectively.
Under the other option, known as Plan A, education programs would receive a $3.7-billion boost, including $1.96 billion for the Pell Grant I program and $1.74 billion for elementary and secondary programs. Head Start would be increased by $800 million.
Over all, the first plan calls for education, social-service, and job-training spending to reach $51.5 billion, while the second plan recommends spending of $55.3 billion.
The first scenario also calls for transferring $415 million in impact-aid expenditures-those targeted to schools serving military dependent&- to the defense budget. IT the Office of Management and Budget would not agree to such a change, only $1.37 billion would be available for education increases under Plan B.
Breaking Down Walls
Which course the committee ultimately follows will be determined by the fate of legislation to revise the Budget Enforcement Act, which prevents the transfer of funds between defense, domestic, and international accounts.
A bill to allow such transfers, HR 3732, is expected to go to the House floor after a vote on the budget resolution, which is expected this week.
IT such a bill were approved by the Congress and signed by President Bush by the time a budget resolution reaches a House-Senate conference, House conferees would adopt Plan A as their position. IT not, they would advocate the same defense cuts, but earmark them for deficit reduction.
Representative Leon E. Panetta, the California Democrat who chairs the budget panel, said presenting the House with those options will give members a better understanding of what could happen if the budget walls are dissolved.
"This Congress is facing a fundamental decision about whether we are ready to seize the opportunity for which this nation has already sacrificed so dearly-to reorder our nation's priorities, to continue strong deficit reduction, and to restore America's future," he told reporters prior to the committee session.
"The President failed to do this in his budget and hopefully the Congress will not," he said. "This resolution basically sets the framework for that important debate."
But Republicans said failing to offer the House a definitive recommendation does not serve the body well, noting that the nonbinding resolution is meant to represent the spending priorities of the committee and of the majority of House members.
Moreover, they said, it is unrealistic to expect that the budget pact will be broken this year. It is unclear how much support the change has in the Congress, Republicans argued, and President Bush has said he would veto such a bill-despite having said several weeks ago that he might consider new budget talks.
"I really don't think we're meeting our responsibilities as a committee ... without saying what plan we prefer, " said Representative Bill Gradison of Ohio, the committee's ranking Republican.
Mr. Gradison failed to persuade the panel to endorse report language urging the House to retain the categorical caps for fiscal 1993 and support the option devoting defense savings to deficit reduction.
An attempt by Representative Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut, to strike Plan A also failed. Both proposals were defeated on party-line votes.
Representative William D. Ford, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee, has called on the Budget panel to boost education, health, and job training programs by $14.9 billion.
The Committee for Education Funding has urged a $10-billion increase for education programs alone.
Vol. 11, Issue 24, Page 24