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Child Advocates Assail 5-Year Plan To Limit Spending

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When the White House sent a package of proposed fiscal 1994 spending cuts to Congress last month, education advocates breathed a collective sigh of relief to see that Education Department programs were largely spared.

But a bipartisan group of 32 House members, led by Reps. Timothy J. Penny, D-Minn., and John R. Kasich, R-Ohio, may succeed in adding budget restrictions to the package that would serve to limit spending on education programs over the next five years.

In addition, child advocates are alarmed about a provision in the Penny-Kasich plan that would consolidate the child-care block grant enacted in 1990 with several other human-services programs and cut the merged programs by 4 percent.

A close vote was expected in the House, which was set to consider the plan late last week as an amendment to the White House plan to cut 1994 appropriations. Besides making direct cuts, the Penny-Kasich proposal would effectively tighten caps on domestic discretionary spending by up to $53 billion over the next five years, for total savings of $103 billion over the period.

Sens. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., and Hank Brown, R-Colo., plan to introduce a similar proposal in the Senate, where rules require that they pursue a separate measure.

An aide to Rep. William H. Natcher, D-Ky., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the Penny-Kasich proposal would put education programs in fierce competition with other domestic programs.

"I don't know that education programs would be more vulnerable than others, but they will undoubtedly have to absorb some portion of the reductions,'' the aide said.

The Penny-Kasich proposal is the result of a deal the Administration struck in August to pass President Clinton's five-year deficit-reduction package, which squeaked through Congress. Mr. Clinton promised conservative and moderate Democrats the chance to vote this fall on additional cuts.

Far-Reaching Implications

Besides the immediate cuts, the President's $496 billion deficit-reduction plan would prohibit the government from spending any more money on non-entitlement programs in fiscal 1998 than it did in fiscal 1993, which ended Sept. 30.

Similarly, while the Penny-Kasich proposal would directly cut $46 million from relatively small education programs, such as public-library construction, its real impact would be more far-reaching.

The proposal includes language to "lock in'' savings for deficit reduction, prohibiting appropriators from using the savings to fund other programs now or in the future. Such a step would effectively lower the amount that can be spent on domestic discretionary programs, which is already capped.

And because the plan would eliminate some "low priority'' programs, appropriators could be forced to make cuts from such high-priority programs as Head Start.

"The proposal would leave the appropriations committees with little alternative but to make reductions in what were previously considered sacrosanct programs,'' said David S. Baime, the vice president of the Committee for Education Funding.

An aide to Martin Olav Sabo, D-Minn., the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said cuts of up to $78 billion over the next five years would have to be found just to meet the current caps.

Alarm Over Child-Care Aid

The provision that has sparked concern among early-childhood experts would merge into a single block grant the Child Care and Development Block Grant, the Social Services Block Grant, the Community Services Block Grant, "at risk'' child-care entitlement funds aimed at families on or at risk of going on welfare, the Dependent Care Planning and Development Grants, and programs providing services and meals for the aging.

Rick May, the Republican staff director for the House Budget Committee--on which Mr. Kasich serves as the ranking Republican--said the the plan aims to offer states "maximum flexibility'' to allocate funds for those programs while cutting administrative costs.

He also argued that a state could decide to devote more rather than less money to child care.

At last week's meeting of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Anaheim, Calif., however, the organization's leaders urged the 23,000 attendees to call members of Congress and rally against the plan.

Helen Blank, a senior program associate for the Children's Defense Fund, said the measure would undo "everything we've worked for for the last 3 years'' by forcing child-care programs to compete with other human services for fewer funds.

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