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Riley Warned Proposed Spending Hikes Are 'in Jeopardy'

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Washington

House and Senate lawmakers last week warned Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley that they may be hard-pressed to approve the spending President Clinton has proposed for many of his education initiatives.

The President's fiscal 1995 budget included a $1.7 billion increase over 1994 in discretionary funds for the Education Department--one of the few federal agencies to get a boost in his spending plan.

The bulk of the proposed education increases for the year that starts Oct. 1 would go to new Administration initiatives such as Goals 2000 and a school-to-work-transition program. (See Education Week, Feb. 16, 1994.)

Mr. Riley last week testified before appropriations subcommittees in both the House and Senate, where lawmakers noted that tight budget caps on domestic discretionary spending passed by Congress last year are constraining their leeway to make spending decisions. Observers have characterized the current state of federal budgetary politics as a zero-sum game in which any increase must be offset by a cut.

"Clearly we're concerned'' that the proposed increases might not be forthcoming, said Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith, who appeared with Mr. Riley.

Some lawmakers suggested that the President's proposal to spend $700 million on the Administration's education-reform centerpiece, the proposed "goals 2000: educate America act,'' is excessive.

'In Jeopardy'

"I would be negligent if I failed to warn you and your colleagues in the Cabinet that the investment package that's at the heart of the President's budget is in jeopardy,'' said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds the Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services departments.

"You've worked hard to pass this legislation, but paying for it may prove even harder,'' he added, referring primarily to Goals 2000.

The House approved the final version of the Goals 2000 bill last week, and it awaited final action late last week in the Senate, where Democrats were trying to round up the 60 votes needed to shut off debate and send it to the President's desk. The bill must be signed by April 1 to allow distribution of funds appropriated last year. (See related story, page 16.)

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., asked Mr. Riley to come up with a funding-priorities list "in the event that we can't do $1.7 billion in increases.''

Mr. Hoyer presided over most of the House hearing in place of the ailing Rep. William H. Natcher, D-Ky., who is the chairman of both the full Appropriations Committee and the subcommittee that funds education. (See related story, page 18.)

Mr. Riley countered lawmakers' warnings by reminding them that the Administration had proposed 33 programs for "elimination,''--though some of them would be revamped rather than cut outright under the Clinton plan. Of those programs, 27 were targeted by the Administration's "national performance review.''

"I understand the austerity here,'' Mr. Riley said. "We took very seriously the directions from this committee'' to offer cuts.

'Cuts' May Not Be Enough

Many of those programs have been slated for elimination by previous administrations and restored by Congress. But even if lawmakers go along with all the cuts, which the department estimates would bring total savings of $639 million, it may not be enough to offset the large increases the Administration has proposed, appropriations aides said.

Members of the Senate Budget Committee have included a provision in their budget resolution that would tighten spending caps even further, although it may not survive a House-Senate conference.

Lawmakers have also compounded the squeeze by vowing to restore huge cuts Mr. Clinton had proposed in a program that helps poor people pay their heating bills, which is funded by the same subcommittee as education programs.

But that program's funding is almost all spent the year it is appropriated. In contrast, funds allocated to most education programs are spent over several years. That makes cuts in education programs less attractive, because they result in lesser reductions in outlays, or funds actually spent in the year they are allocated, which is the spending that is "counted'' in determining whether the budgetary caps have been exceeded.

"We can't make up all of those [restored cuts] in education,'' Mr. Harkin said.

However, an aide to Mr. Harkin noted that while Mr. Clinton's education initiatives would not entail high outlays for fiscal 1995, approving his request would cause outlays to rise in 1996 and later years.

"We have to consider [in this year's appropriations] what our situation will be next year and the years after that,'' the aide said.

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