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Citing School-Aid Cuts, Clinton Vetoes Rescission Bill

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Washington

Less than 24 hours after it landed on his desk, President Clinton last week vetoed his first bill--a budget-cutting package that would have erased $16.4 billion in fiscal 1995 spending, including $884 million from Education Department programs.

"I cannot in good conscience sign a bill that cuts education to save pet Congressional projects," the President said during a June 7 Rose Garden ceremony, held to honor 98 schools for their efforts under the federal Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program.

"That is old politics. It is wrong," he declared, drawing applause from about 200 students and school officials.

Republicans who backed the bill, which would have paid for disaster relief for several states and aid related to the Oklahoma City federal-building bombing, blamed Mr. Clinton for blocking needed help and thwarting efforts to trim federal spending.

"What are the President's plans?" Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, asked in a written statement. "Savings are evaporating, emergency needs are going unmet."

Another Attempt?

Still, a new bill more amenable to the President could be in the works, as G.O.P. leaders have said that they cannot muster the two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress to override the veto.

Mr. Livingston has "not ruled out" such a bill, but it must be done soon, said Quin Hillyer, his press secretary. The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Mark O. Hatfield, R-Ore., has also said he would consider minor changes, G.O.P. aides said.

Lawmakers could also let the bill die and attempt to squeeze additional savings from the same programs in the fiscal 1996 budget.

Though this was Mr. Clinton's first Presidential veto, it came as no surprise.

Mr. Clinton had pledged to veto the bill unless some $1.5 billion in funding was restored for such programs as school-based drug education, the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, and national service.

But negotiations between lawmakers and the White House, undertaken as a last-minute effort to salvage the bill, failed last month, setting the stage for the veto at last week's education event.

Educators Laud Veto

"There's a deficit in this country in the number of safe schools," Mr. Clinton told the crowd. "There's an education deficit in this country."

Many honorees attending the ceremony agreed. They said in interviews that losing their Safe and Drug-Free Schools grants would cripple efforts to combat drugs and violence. The bill would have cut $236 million from the program, half of its appropriation for the current fiscal year.

"The dollar amounts may not sound significant, but any cut would bring us down," said Diane Neicheril, the principal of the Clarke Street School in Milwaukee. Her school used federal aid to start new intervention programs.

Charles Holliday, the principal of a small, rural elementary school in Hickman, Ky., said loss of drug-free-schools funding would mean fewer materials for student discussions and assemblies on drug prevention. "Some things are too important to lose," he said.

Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said the veto would be remembered as a turning point and a statement of the nation's priorities. The cuts were "misguided," he said in a written statement. "They are not what our students and children need, and they are not what America wants."

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