House Approves Budget Bill That Would Force Cuts
House Republicans last week easily won approval of a 1996 budget resolution that would cut total spending on the budget category that includes education by more than $10 billion in the next fiscal year.
The broad--but non-binding--plan the House Budget Committee submitted with the resolution calls for slashing 150 education programs and abolishing the Education Department while charting a path to balance the federal budget by 2002.
The long-term spending blueprint would save $1 trillion over seven years and makes room for passage this year of a tax-cut package that includes a $500-per-child tax credit.
Republicans packed the House chamber May 18 to vote for the plan and rose to cheer as Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., read the final tally: 238 for and 193 against. Eight Democrats supported the plan, while just one Republican opposed it.
Republicans praised the plan as the first step of a revolution in the way Congress handles the deficit-plagued federal budget. Democrats faulted it for cutting popular social programs while providing for a tax cut that they said would disproportionately benefit the wealthy.
"Just like a family, if the government spends more than it takes in, government will go bankrupt," declared Rep. John R. Kasich, R-Ohio, the chairman of the Budget Committee and the prime architect of the plan.
In remarks that closed two days of testy debate, Mr. Kasich held up a poster of several babies to illustrate why he felt the G.O.P. plan was so significant.
"The 21st century is about the power of the individual, not the power of bureaucracy and red tape,"~~ Mr. Kasich said.
Democrats Denounce Cuts
But Democrats did not buy the Republican argument that the plan will ultimately benefit today's children by helping erase the mounting national debt.
"It's too bad kids don't have powerful lobbyists in Washington, because many of the education programs which are important to our children's future are being assaulted in this budget," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif.
Spending on education, training, and social services would drop to $45.7 billion in fiscal 1996, from $58.3 billion this fiscal year, under the House resolution. And education lobbyists say that sharp drop could mean a reduction of more than 20 percent in available federal funds for education programs, beginning with the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.
"We don't want cuts at all, but the first year is drastic and almost impossible to deal with," said John B. Forkenbrock, the president of the Committee for Education Funding, a lobbying group that represents about 100 education organizations.
But Mr. Forkenbrock said that as long as a balanced budget and a tax cut are on the table and defense cuts are not, there are very few alternatives left.
Aside from seeking more generous treatment as the Senate continues debate on its spending plan this week, Mr. Forkenbrock said that education groups in Washington will spread word of the proposed cuts to their constituents.
A glimmer of hope for school lobbyists emerged late last week when seven Republican senators signed a letter to Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, the Senate majority leader, saying that they were "deeply troubled" by a package of tax cuts they expect to be offered as an amendment on the Senate floor. Such cuts could force deeper spending reductions in the Senate plan.
Only substitute balanced-budget proposals were allowed as amendments in the House last week.
A plan sponsored by a group of conservative Democrats proposed taking a slower path to a balanced budget and allowing more education spending by eliminating proposed tax breaks. It was defeated on a 325-to-100 vote.
A plan from the Congressional Black Caucus, which would have cut corporate tax breaks to provide more money for social programs, was defeated 367 to 56.
Finally, an alternative G.O.P. plan that would have paved the way for a balanced budget over five years was voted down 342 to 89.
The Democratic leadership did not endorse a balanced-budget proposal of its own and instead concentrated on decrying the main G.O.P. plan.
That strategy prompted Rep. Dick Armey, R-Tex., the House majority leader, to remark: "The party that rallied the American people to the call that there's nothing to fear but fear itself has nothing to offer but fear itself."