Panel Sends 1995 Education Cuts to House Floor
Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee steamrolled Democratic opposition last week and passed a bill that would slash $17.4 billion from the federal budget in this fiscal year--including $1.7 billion in Education Department funds.
The legislation passed on a 31-to-22 vote following a week of lobbying by Education Department officials to scale back the cuts, which are known as rescissions.
The rescissions bill, which now goes to the full House, would cut millions of education dollars that were to begin flowing to states and school districts July 1. (See Education Week, March 1, 1995.)
The G.O.P. plan would terminate funding for 44 education programs--mostly duplicating, but in some cases accelerating, cuts proposed by President Clinton in his fiscal 1996 budget plan.
The entire $482 million appropriation for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program would be repealed. Other rescissions would include $142 million in state-grant funds under the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, $105 million in Title I funds, and $60 million for Eisenhower professional-development grants.
In defeating several Democrat-sponsored amendments to restore funding, Republicans said the cuts would help rein in the federal budget deficit.
"This is not an argument about who's more compassionate," said Rep. Robert L. Livingston, R-La., the chairman of the Appropriations Committee. "It's about living within our means."
The bill earmarks $5.4 billion of the savings to pay for disaster relief, and Republicans said the remaining savings would reduce the deficit. But Democrats charged that the measure would offset tax cuts called for in the House G.O.P.'s "Contract With America."
"This is a honeypot for tax reductions that are not affordable," said Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., the panel's ranking Democrat, calling cuts in education and nutrition programs "a war on kids."
Mr. Obey proposed creating a five-year, $7 billion "school-lunch and family-nutrition preservation fund" to be paid for by deferring deployment of the Air Force's F-22 fighter by five years. The amendment, which would have replaced $225 million in cuts to school-lunch and related programs, died on a voice vote.
Another proposed amendment would have restored $4.8 billion in cuts, including cuts in education and job-training programs and public-broadcasting funds. It failed on a 35-to-20 vote.
Asked after the hearing if education funds might be restored during the House debate, Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., shook her head and said, "They have the votes." But she noted that the Senate might take a different view.
Earlier in the week, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley sparred with appropriators at a hearing on the fiscal 1996 budget that ended up focusing more on the 1995 rescission plan. Mr. Riley was particularly critical of the proposed cuts to Goals 2000. (See related story .)
Rep. John Edward Porter, R-Ill., the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and(See Education, challenged Mr. Riley to find $142 million in other savings to replace Goals 2000 cuts.
"It's not that we're against the program, but it's just that we feel dollars can be saved there," Mr. Porter said.
Mr. Porter said Congress is to blame for creating a situation where the Education Department is running 240 programs, many of them narrow, duplicative, and inefficient. "We're at the point of being out of control," he said.
Mr. Riley said after the hearing that he was encouraged by Mr. Porter's offer, and that department officials would look for alternatives to cutting Goals 2000.
The Secretary's efforts last week also included a visit to a Washington school to highlight anti-drug programs and a briefing for reporters, where he called the education cuts "hastily put together."
"I really don't think the American people realize what is beginning to happen when the education budget is being attacked like this," he said at the briefing. "It's frightening to think this is how education is going to be treated."
The most vigorous debate at the markup came over an amendment that would have deferred some disaster-relief spending in order to restore cuts to low-income housing and veterans' programs.
Rep. Louis Stokes, D-Ohio, who proposed the amendment, said that he grew up in subsidized housing and his mother, a widow, received federal welfare aid. "Thank God we had people in Congress at that time who provided us with an opportunity not to become statistics," he said.
Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Tex., countered that needy individuals have become too reliant on welfare.
Mr. Livingston closed off that debate, shouting: "We can play this compassion game all day long. But if we pass this amendment, we won't take a step forward."
It was defeated, 29 to 23.
One of the few cuts to be restored was $36 million for aids research and prevention. An amendment replaced that cut with cuts in defense-cleanup funds and money for construction of a federal office building. It passed 37 to 18 with bipartisan support.
The panel also adopted an amendment that would let states limit Medicaid payments for abortions to cases when a woman's life is threatened--a stricter interpretation of 1993 appropriations language that the Administration says requires states to provide Medicaid-financed abortions in cases of rape or incest as well. It passed on a 33-to-21 vote.