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Preliminary Budget Figures Forecast Major Cuts

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Washington

Observers got a glimpse of the potentially grim reality behind budget-cutting rhetoric when House appropriators received preliminary spending targets that almost certainly would put the squeeze on education programs.

Of the 13 House subcommittees that control discretionary federal spending, the panel that oversees education funds would have to find the largest cuts--about $2.2 billion less than current levels--in fiscal 1996 outlays, under the scenario advanced late last month by Rep. Robert L. Livingston, R-La., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Meeting with his committee's subcommittee chairmen, traditionally powerful lawmakers known here as the "cardinals," Mr. Livingston presented tentative bottom-line figures for 1996 outlays--money that will be spent in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

Money will not be officially divided among subcommittees until House and Senate budget resolutions passed last month are reconciled, probably later this month. That compromise spending blueprint will set targets for broad categories of spending, and appropriators will then decide how to meet them.

Mr. Livingston, who based his outlay figures on the House resolution, could still change subcommittee spending targets. However, Republican and Democratic aides agreed that the final numbers are unlikely to vary much because the two resolutions call for similar levels of overall savings.

Both are long-term plans that seek to balance the federal budget by 2002, largely through reduced federal spending and government reorganization. (See Education Week, 5/24/95 and related story .)

Outlay Warning

"Budget resolutions always sound so far off, but this is very severe," said Edward R. Kealy, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, an umbrella lobbying group that represents about 80 education asso- ciations and institutions. "It'll take a tough maneuver to keep major programs from being savaged."

Under the House resolution, the total outlay target for discretionary, or nonmandated, spending would be $537.2 billion, or about $7 billion less than the estimated fiscal 1995 level, Mr. Livingston reported.

For programs under the jurisdiction of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee, the total is $67.4 billion, or about $2.2 billion less than what will be spent this fiscal year, based on preliminary figures.

Funds under most education programs are not spent the year after they are appropriated, but over several years, a method that allows schools more planning time. This makes it difficult to measure changes in appropriations based on outlay figures.

Mr. Livingston plans to release estimates of budget authority, or the total amount each subcommittee can appropriate in the 1996 budget, in a news briefing this week, Republican aides said.

Still, the outlay targets indicate the magnitude of the spending cuts that members of the education-appropriations subcommittee, which is chaired by Rep. John Edward Porter, R-Ill., will have to make in the 600 or so programs in three departments and 20 agencies under its jurisdiction.

"There are a thousand variations of scenarios," said one Democratic aide. "The one thing you can say for sure is there will be lots of reductions."

There could be added pressure on education programs in the 1996 budget if President Clinton makes good on his threat to veto a $16.4 billion spending-cut bill cleared by Congress last month.

Tough Choices

The President has singled out proposed education cuts in the rescissions bill, HR 1158, as unacceptable. The bill would cut $874.5 million from the Education Department's budget for fiscal 1995, most of which actually would be spent, or "outlayed," in the fiscal year that begins Oct 1. (See Education Week, 5/31/95.)

"It's very important for us to get something approaching the rescissions level [of savings]," a Republican aide said. "We must still get to a balanced budget by 2002."

While the suggestions are not binding, the House budget resolution calls for eliminating 150 education programs and disbanding the Education Department, although it is unclear whether abolishing the agency would lower short-term spending.

In any case, lawmakers will have to make tough choices among programs. They may decide to eliminate some outright, or to cut most programs less dramatically.

Subcommittee chairmen are not expected to reveal their specific spending proposals until early next month.

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