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Clinton Spares Education From Cuts in Balanced-Budget Plan

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Washington

President Clinton again thrust schools to the top of his agenda last week by sparing education from across-the-board spending cuts he is proposing in a 10-year balanced-budget plan.

The nonbinding plan Mr. Clinton unveiled last week varies markedly from his initial budget plan for fiscal 1996, which envisioned an indefinite continuation of deficits in the federal budget. It also seeks to set him apart from Republicans in Congress whose seven-year plans to balance the budget would make steep cuts in scores of social programs.

The abruptly released outline drew criticism from both Republicans and Democrats, but other lawmakers from both parties praised Mr. Clinton for furthering the national debate on government spending priorities.

In a brief speech from the Oval Office on June 13, Mr. Clinton called for a 20 percent cut in all nonmandatory spending, except for education and defense.

"Because our most important mission is to help people make the most of their own lives, don't cut education," Mr. Clinton said.

The plan would trim $1.1 trillion in spending by 2005, while giving middle-class families a $500-per-child tax credit for children under 13 and a $10,000 tax deduction for college costs.

Mr. Clinton's plan would increase funding for education and training programs by $40 billion over seven years. Under one G.O.P. scenario, spending in those areas would drop $43 billion in that time, according to Administration data.

National-service programs, Head Start, the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities program, and Pell grants would see funding increases under Mr. Clinton's plan.

Republicans have proposed slowing spending on some of the President's pet programs, while eliminating others, like national service.

More details on the President's plan are expected this month.

Deputy Secretary of Education Madeleine M. Kunin said the President has shown how to balance the budget and protect education. "There's a real contrast over how we should spend dollars," she said. "It's very positive news for the young people of this country."

'Now a Player'

The plan's unveiling had an immediate impact here, where G.O.P. budget leaders met the next day with Leon E. Panetta, the White House chief of staff. It was unclear, however, if the President's move will influence a House-Senate conference committee now working out final agreements on a 1996 spending blueprint.

"We'll have to wait and see," said Rep. Charles W. Stenholm, D-Texas, a member of the House Budget Committee."The important thing is that the President is now a player."

Based on spending levels in the House budget resolution, programs under the jurisdiction of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education would receive $60.1 billion in in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1--$9 billion, or 14 percent, less than in fiscal 1995, the committee estimates.

Education advocates are encouraged by the President's support. His education-friendly budget plan came one week after he vetoed a $16.4 billion budget-cutting bill, citing its proposed cuts in education programs.

Despite several days of talks among lawmakers and Administration officials, efforts to draft a replacement bill acceptable to both the President and Congress had borne no fruit as of late last week.

Congress should realize that Mr. Clinton will not accept bills targeting school funds, said Edward R. Kealy, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, an umbrella lobbying organization representing some 80 education groups. "In the end game this fall, [his plan] will be an alternative."

Too Little, Too Late?

Republicans said the President's plan was too little, too late, although they praised his decision to join their effort to erase the federal deficit.

"We believe we have outlined a path to prosperity Americans can rely on well into the next century," the Senate majority leader, Bob Dole, R-Kan, said in replying to Mr. Clinton's speech, adding that "a long-awaited national discussion finally begins in earnest."

Unlike Mr. Stenholm, one of his party's more conservative members, some Democrats bemoaned Mr. Clinton's plan, arguing that it includes unpalatable G.O.P. ideas, such as lowering the growth of spending on Medicare, and diverges from the President's earlier stands. They also criticized the President for not seeking their input.

"I think most of us learned some time ago that if you don't like the President's position on a particular issue, you simply need to wait a few weeks," Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., the ranking minority member on the House Appropriations Committee, said in a written statement.

"If you can follow this White House on the budget, you are a whole lot smarter than I am," he added.

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