G.O.P. Spending Proposal Urges Phaseout of E.D.
The leadership of the House Budget Committee has drafted a long-term plan that calls for phasing out the Education Department and two other federal departments to help balance the federal budget by 2002.
Aides said the plan was to be presented to the entire House Republican conference late last week at a meeting in Leesburg, Va. The budget panel plans to unveil the proposal publicly next week, when the committee is scheduled to begin marking up a fiscal 1996 budget resolution.
"Things could change in Leesburg, but by the end of the day, there will be less departments than when they started," Chris Ullman, a spokesman for the House Budget Committee, said last week.
Commerce and Energy are the other departments targeted for elimination.
Vic Klatt, the education staff director for the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, noted that a budget resolution essentially amounts to a "statement of principles." Actually eliminating an agency would require authorizing legislation that would be considered by the House and Senate government-affairs committees.
'Taking This Seriously'
Earlier this spring, members of the Opportunities Committee announced they would draft legislation that would merge the Education and Labor departments. (See Education Week, 2/22/95.)
And Republican aides say that several lawmakers are working on legislation that would eliminate the Education Department and more closely parallel the plan emerging from the House Budget Committee, which is chaired by Rep. John R. Kasich, R-Ohio.
"Between the two proposals, there is probably enough support to pass something," Mr. Klatt said.
But a Clinton Administration official said it was too early to begin burning Education Department stationery.
"We're taking this seriously ... though my sense is they're looking for a pelt on their belt to take to voters," said Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith.
"I think they're miscalculating," he said. "Most people can't believe that the Department of Education is under attack."
Budget action will heat up across Capitol Hill this week, as the budget panels in both the House and Senate are set to begin marking up their budget resolutions for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Like his House colleagues, Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-Ariz., the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has said he will propose a long-term plan to balance the federal budget. He has said he wants to cap nondefense discretionary spending at the 1995 level, and eventually lower the caps another $200 billion by 2002.
And discretionary-spending cuts may not even be the most controversial item on the agenda. The unveiling of Mr. Domenici's plan, which would achieve a balanced budget over seven years, has been pushed back several times in the past few weeks to give senators more time to work out differences over tax breaks and Medicare reform.
"I can't remember a time when Congress has had to reduce so much," said William Niskanen, the chairman of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Washington. "This is crunch time."
The implications of the current budgetary climate have not been lost on education lobbyists, who have already launched a fight to save federal education aid.
In an April 26 letter to senators, John Forkenbrock, the president of the Committee for Education Funding, an umbrella lobbying group, argued that education is key to "self-reliance" and "economic productivity." And federal education programs, he added, work for students who have access to them.
Because the leaders of the Republican majority say they will spare defense and Social Security, which together make up 40 percent of this year's federal spending, "the pain will be concentrated very intensely on programs which are on the table," said Richard Kogan, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank based here. "In some areas, they'll have to terminate."
For example, education lobbyists estimate that the budget caps proposed by Mr. Domenici would require a 30 percent, or $6.6 billion, reduction in Education Department programs by 2002.
Level funding in fiscal 1996 would mean that 200,000 fewer disadvantaged children would get Title I benefits, according to a report by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The report also warned that the number of students qualifying for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act will grow by 3 percent annually, or about 160,000, in each of the next few years.
While the drive to cut the federal deficit is a strong impetus in itself, Republicans looking to next year's Presidential election may have another incentive to target education programs: a desire to roll back President Clinton's successes, many of which are in education.
"Sure they will. The Republicans will want to show they are changing national priorities," said Stanley E. Collender, the director of federal-budget policy at Price Waterhouse, a Washington consulting group.
The Public Eye
Observers note that rescissions bills awaiting a House-Senate conference include numerous proposals to cut education spending, especially the House version, which would slash $1.7 billion in Education Department fiscal 1995 funding. The House bill is particularly hard on Clinton initiatives such as the Goals 2000: Educate America Act and the AmeriCorps national-service program.
Education groups are encouraged, however, by the Senate bill, which proposes $405 million in education reductions but would restore most of the proposed House cuts.
And advocates hope that highlighting the popularity of many education programs will help deflect the budget ax.
That strategy is being employed by college students, who have held several rallies in the past few months to protest proposals to eliminate federal subsidies for interest on student loans while borrowers are in college. Ending the subsidies would save about $12 billion over five years, but it could boost the cost of a college education by 20 percent.
The Alliance to Save Student Aid has a new hot line that lets protesters call Congress free of charge at least until May 15.
'An Education Deficit'
Congressional Democrats, for their part, have not announced any plans to draft an alternative to the G.O.P. budget, but observers expect them to position themselves as defenders of education. Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., has already said he will propose cutting $10 billion from defense spending in 1996, earmarking half of that for education programs and aid to poor countries and half for deficit reduction.
And President Clinton will lead the pro-education charge, an Administration official said.
"The President talks about an education deficit that is as serious as the budget deficit," said Lawrence J. Haas, the associate director of communications for the Office of Management and Budget. "Clearly, he will be pushing for sufficient education funding and making education a priority."
But with a full budget agenda this summer, one observer warned that education could get elbowed out of the public eye.
"When you want to balance the federal budget and make cuts," said Harold Colton-Max, a policy analyst for O.M.B. Watch, a Washington group that monitors budget and regulatory policy, "there is so much at the same time it will be hard to get the American public to pay attention to all of them."