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Spending Caps in Deficit Package Will Pinch E.D. Programs

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WASHINGTON--The deficit-reduction package signed by President Clinton last month will put a squeeze on education programs due to caps that essentially freeze discretionary domestic spending over the five years covered by the plan.

Moreover, Congress this fall will consider several measures that could further pinch education and other discretionary programs.

An aide to Rep. William H. Natcher, D-Ky., who chairs the House Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, characterized the federal government's spending status as "at best a zero-sum game,'' with increases in one area offset by cuts in another.

HR 2264, the $496 billion deficit-reduction plan, will not let the government spend any more money on non-entitlement programs in fiscal 1998 than it has for the fiscal year that ends next week.

"These are very tough numbers,'' the aide said. "Even the most conservative person would realize that a freeze, if you live with it, is a very tough situation.''

The freeze "will place us in competition with virtually every other domestic priority,'' said Richard A. Kruse, the director of federal relations for the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the current president of the Committee for Education Funding. "Obviously deficit reduction is the driving force that created this freeze, but the long-term economic well-being of the country is equally dependent upon a skilled workforce and an educated constituency.''

Further Limitations Loom

As it became clear that HR 2264 would not pass without the support of conservative and moderate Democrats, the President and Democratic leaders promised them the chance this fall to vote on additional deficit-reduction legislation.

Among those proposals are several that may affect education programs: a spending-cut bill, a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget, and a bill to change the rules surrounding rescissions.

After fiscal 1994 begins on Oct. 1, the White House is expected to send to Congress a bill that proposes cuts--estimates range from $5 billion to $15 billion--in fiscal 1994 spending bills currently moving through the appropriations process. Various moderate and conservative Democrats said they have been promised the chance to add to Mr. Clinton's spending cuts.

While no specific amount has been set, an aide to Rep. Timothy J. Penny, D-Minn., said the additional reductions would be "real cuts.''

A balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution has been shot down numerous times in the past, most recently in 1992, but last year's influx of new members may provide the necessary two-thirds vote in each chamber. Traditionally, Washington's education lobby has opposed a balanced-budget amendment because it is viewed as an additional squeeze on domestic programs, including those serving schools and children.

Expanded Rescission Authority

In addition, the proposal for expanded rescission authority would give the President more power to undo what Congress has appropriated. The President can now send Congress proposals to cancel previously allotted spending, but lawmakers can ignore those proposals, which expire after 45 days if the House and Senate fail to approve them.

HR 1578, passed by the House in April, would require Congress to vote on the President's proposals, making many members on both the left and right unhappy, Mr. Penny's aide said. Many liberal Democrats think that the measure, considered by some a watered-down line-item veto, would transfer too much power over spending from Congress to the executive branch. Republicans and more conservative Democrats generally think it does not go far enough and want to give the President complete authority to veto line items as a means to cut the deficit.

Meanwhile, Republicans have proposed repealing a provision in HR 2264 that makes tax increases retroactive to Jan. 1, 1993, paying for it with a 3 percent across-the-board cut in 1994 appropriations.

Democrats have not balked outright at the proposal, but Mr. Kruse called it "a dreadful idea.''

"Education is already getting short shrift for fiscal 1994,'' he said. "We've already given at the office.''

The bottom line is that the Education Department will have to run two budgetary gauntlets--once to get money appropriated, and a second time to try to keep it.

"We have every reason to believe a second round of cuts will be flowing after the fiscal 1994 bill is complete,'' Mr. Kruse said. "Come October [Administration officials] will retreat from their commitments.''

Washington Editor Mark Pitsch also contributed to this story.

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