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House, Senate Budget Plans Slash E.D. Programs

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Education programs would be quickly and massively slashed en route to a balanced federal budget by 2002 under seven-year spending plans approved last week by House and Senate Budget panels.

The sweeping plans, one of which calls for abolishing the Education Department, are scheduled to go to the floors of both chambers this week.

Republicans said their budget blueprints are good for children, as a balanced budget means that young people will not be saddled with a huge national debt.

Democrats decried the plans for assaulting the young and the poor because they allow for tax breaks that would benefit the rich while simultaneously calling for major cuts in scores of education and social-welfare programs.

The House Budget Committee's plan would phase out the Education Department over seven years to help save $1.4 trillion needed to erase the federal deficit by 2002.

The Departments of Commerce and Energy are also targeted for elimination under the resolution, which the panel approved by a 25-to-17 vote last week. Rep. Mike Parker, D-Miss., was the only Democrat voting in favor.

The budget resolution is intended to serve as a spending guideline, setting spending ceilings for large categories of programs. While both bills propose policy changes and cuts in particular programs--with the House bill setting out a detailed list--appropriations committees make final decisions on allocations for particular programs, and changes in policy must be approved by authorizing committees.

For example, education committees and panels with jurisdiction over the structure of the federal government would have to approve legislation to abolish the Education Department.

150 Programs Cut

G.O.P. aides said last week that legislation is being finalized that would abolish education as a cabinet-level agency within a year and that would move remaining programs to other departments.

The House resolution bases its figures on the assumption that Congress will agree to kill some 150 of the current 240 Education Department programs in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. That list includes the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, Title I concentration grants, and subsidies for student loans paid while borrowers are still in college.

It calls for spending $45.7 billion on the category that includes education, training, employment, and social services in fiscal 1996, or about $12.4 billion less than current spending levels.

In total, the plan calls for terminating, privatizing, or replacing with block grants 284 programs, 69 commissions, and 13 agencies.

"We put together this document for the children," said Rep. John R. Kasich, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House budget panel. ~~"If we don't put forth a balanced budget, we will have an erosion of opportunity in this country."

The Senate Budget Committee's more modest plan, passed 12 to 10, calls for merging 60 job-training programs into block grants, terminating 30 small education programs, and eliminating loan subsidies for graduate and professional students while they are in school.

An amendment by Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., to remove the loan-subsidy proposal was rejected by a vote of 12 to 10.

The plan would spend $48.1 billion in fiscal 1996 on the category that includes education, $10 billion less than in 1995. It calls for maintaining current funding for such programs as Title I, Head Start, special education, and Pell Grants.

Both plans would eliminate the Corporation for National Service, which operates AmeriCorps, President Clinton's signature national-service program.

'Shortsighted' Cuts?

Last week's debate touched off furious rhetoric inside and outside the committee markups.

In a May 10 press briefing, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said he was particularly worried about the House proposal and added that anyone who wants to make sweeping cuts in school spending "is not in touch with the times."

"I urge Republicans supporting this proposal to stop for a minute and think about kids and learning and stop thinking about politics," Mr. Riley added.

He reiterated his argument that education "is so important to this country, you ought not pull that person out of the cabinet."

In a separate White House briefing, Mr. Riley and other top officials again focused on proposed cuts in education and training programs.

"Of all the places in the budget to cut, these seem the most stupid and the most shortsighted," said Budget Director Alice M. Rivlin.

"The President will not stand by and allow these education reforms to be dismantled," said Leon Panetta, the White House chief of staff.

But in an interview on Capitol Hill, Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Tex., a Presidential candidate and Budget Committee member, said: "We're not cutting education spending. Secretary Riley and the President want the government to do the spending, and we want the people to do the spending."

Debate was at least as acrimonious in the committee meetings.

Acrimonious Debate

For nearly two hours on May 10, members of the House brought out their heavy rhetorical weaponry while debating a proposal by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., and Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., to restore in-school loan subsidies. They would have offset the measure by limiting the number of families who would qualify for the $500-per-child tax break already approved by the House.

"With this, I'm hoping to beat back the assault on middle-income and low-income families," Ms. Woolsey said.

"We're talking about making choices," said Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich. "At an earlier stage, we're getting kids to realize there are consequences to your activities."

The amendment was rejected 25 to 17.

Other Democratic proposals to restore spending on education and school-nutrition programs also failed on largely party-line votes.

Senate Democrats also tried, and failed, to amend their committee's spending bill to restore education money.

Mr. Simon proposed shifting $5 billion in military funds into education. It was rejected 17 to 5.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., proposed replacing $60 million in school and nutrition funds by reducing tax breaks that now go to corporations. His amendment was rejected 12 to 10.

Still, Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., said he and Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, hope to bring an amendment to the floor that would restore some education funds.

Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, predicted that his plan would pass in the full Senate.

"I believe that all Republicans are marching to one drummer--to balance the federal budget," Mr. Domenici said.

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