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Plans To Shift Funds to Domestic Programs Appear Dead

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WASHINGTON--Setbacks in both the House and Senate have effectively doomed prospects for a transfer of defense dollars to domestic programs this year, virtually ensuring that the appropriations process will feature tightly restricted spending choices and competitive lobbying efforts by domestic interest groups.

By a vote of 238 to 187, the House last week rejected HR 3732, a bill that would amend the 1990 Budget Enforcement Act to allow transfers among budget categories. Under the act, separate spending caps constrain defense, domestic, and international spending until next year's budget cycle.

Proponents of HR 3732 wanted to dissolve the act's "fire walls'' because Congressional leaders contend that the caps would keep overall domestic spending below the amount needed to keep pace with inflation. (See Education Week, March 11, 1992.)

Opponents--including some of the 76 Democrats who joined 162 Republicans to spike the bill--argued that the nation's first priority should be reducing the deficit. Under the Budget Enforcement Act, any defense savings are to be applied to the deficit.

Meanwhile, the Senate leadership was unable to muster the three-fifths majority needed to stifle a filibuster by Republicans opposed to a companion measure, S 2520.

Congressional appropriations staffers and education lobbyists agreed that the two "walls'' bills will probably not be revived.

Representative John Conyers Jr., the Michigan Democrat who chairs the House Government Operations Committee and the chief sponsor of HR 3732, predicted that 100,000 fewer students will be eligible for Pell Grants as a result of the bill's failure, and that 38,000 fewer children will be eligible for Head Start services.

Moreover, aides and lobbyists say the appropriations battle over scarce domestic dollars may prove particularly contentious this year.

Michael Edwards, the manager of Congressional relations for the National Education Association, said the vote "has assured that education will have to battle health, and the environment, and transportation.''

Budget Blueprints

The budget resolution approved by the House last month recommended that education programs receive a $3.7-billion increase in fiscal 1993--if a "walls'' bill were enacted. About $15 billion would have been transferred from defense to domestic programs had the bill passed.

Without it, the resolution recommends that education programs receive an increase of $1.7 billion over last year. But the resolution calls for the Defense Department to fund $423 million in impact aid now funded by the Education Department.

That recommendation is likely to be rejected because it requires the consent of the Bush Administration, which opposes the move, thereby trimming the proposed education increase to roughly $1.3 billion.

The Senate Budget Committee late last week endorsed a budget resolution calling for $50.7 billion for education, job-training, and social-service programs--$800,000 less than recommended in the House resolution. The committee did not recommend how money should be distributed among programs.

House and Senate appropriators, which use the budget resolutions as a guide in allocating funds to programs, usually wait until the budget resolutions are passed before dividing available funds among their subcommittees.

But an aide to Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee, said the writing is already on the wall.

"I assume we'll have to look at a lot of gimmicks,'' the aide said. "We're out of options. We'll have to be creative.''

Nevertheless, some remain hopeful that a bill can be fashioned that would provide more money for domestic programs.

"I think the issue is one that is an issue of reality,'' an aide to Mr. Conyers said."There is no way that it's not going to come back up. How are you going to fund America 2000? How are you going to fund the higher-education bill?''

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