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Rep. John E. Porter, R-Ill., took the reins of the appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over education programs as Congress's new Republican leaders were promising to slash the size of government.

But Mr. Porter has wasted no time in leaping to the defense of a program that has appeared on many lists of proposed cuts, including President Clinton's.

"As members of Congress representing school districts heavily dependent upon impact aid, we request your support of this vitally important program," Mr. Porter wrote in a letter to Rep. John R. Kasich, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Budget Committee. "It is our nation's responsibility."

The letter was signed by 73 lawmakers.

The impact-aid program compensates school districts for revenue lost due to the presence of federal property or workers. It primarily aids in the education of students from military bases and Indian reservations.

Mr. Porter, whose district includes a major Navy training facility, said erasing impact aid "would be disastrous" for an estimated 1.8 million students.

Impact-aid funding dropped from $913 million in 1994 to $728 million this fiscal year. President Clinton requested $619 million for the program in his 1996 budget.

The Clinton Administration last week stepped up its defense of the President's choice for surgeon general, Dr. Henry Foster Jr., whose record on abortion has threatened his nomination.

Both Mike McCurry, the White House press secretary, and Vice President Gore last week called his opponents "extremists."

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., meanwhile, was quoted as saying Dr. Foster was being "railroaded," and suggesting he might break ranks with the G.O.P. opposition.

The National Education Association last week endorsed the nominee, saying he "stresses the same values our members teach students every day." Dr. Foster is known for his work in preventing teenage pregnancy.

For his part, Dr. Foster has been actively defending his record in public appearances and newspaper editorial columns.

Controversy erupted after Dr. Foster was forced to revise estimates of the number of abortions he has performed. The nomination hit another bump last week when it was revealed that he had sterilized mentally retarded women in the1970's. The White House said it was a common practice at that time.

--Robert C. Johnston & Mark Pitsch

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