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Federal File: Priority promises; Trying again?

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At a recent event, Rep. John Conyers Jr. effectively urged a room full of education lobbyists to vote 76 of his fellow House Democrats out of office this November.

The Michigan Democrat, who earlier this year led the House effort to break down the so-called firewalls between defense and domestic spending, was honored Sept. 21 at the Committee for Education Funding's seventh annual Congressional awards dinner.

Through an aide, Mr. Conyers "commissioned'' members of the umbrella lobbying organization as "deputies'' and urged them to "arrest'' the 76 Democrats who voted against his measure. He called on Susan Frost, the organization's executive director, to "lead the charge.''

Sen. Jim Sasser, D-Tenn., who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, was also honored for sponsoring the firewalls bill.

The C.E.F. gave other awards to Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, for his longtime support of education funding and to Jonathan Kozol, whose book Savage Inequalities highlighted funding disparities between affluent and poor schools.

Mr. Conyers, Mr. Sasser, and Mr. Byrd vowed that federal funding priorities will change next year, when budget categories are to be combined under one spending cap.

Was the debate over student aid settled for several years with this summer's enactment of a new Higher Education Act--or wasn't it?

A recent issue of Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report quoted the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Rep. William D. Ford, D-Mich., as saying that he would reopen the Higher Education Act next year to "see if we can do better than we did'' if Gov. Bill Clinton is elected President.

The journal said Mr. Ford would like another chance to make the Pell Grant an entitlement and the opportunity to apply a peace dividend to financial-aid programs.

But Tom Wolanin, a top Ford aide and a principal author of the H.E.A. reauthorization bill, suggested that the remarks should not be taken too literally.

"I read that more as he's fully prepared to work with Clinton and cooperate with him rather than that we've got a plan to come back with next year,'' Mr. Wolanin said.

He said the 103rd Congress will take up some matters pertaining to the H.E.A., but called them "a lot of little things.''

In any case, Mr. Ford's committee is likely to be preoccupied next year with a scheduled reauthorization of most precollegiate programs.-M.P.

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