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Stalling Tactics Put Proposed Education Cuts in Limbo

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Despite President Clinton's support, a Republican bill that would cut $16.3 billion in federal spending this fiscal year--including $574 million in education funds--is on shaky ground in the Senate.

The bill, a compromise version of the bill Mr. Clinton vetoed last month, would provide $7.2 billion for disaster relief and realize $9.1 billion in savings.

While Mr. Clinton's veto forced Republicans to restore $300 million in education cuts, the compromise bill would chip away from 30 education programs.

Current-year funding for state grants under the Goals 2000: Educate America Act would be cut by $31.5 million, Eisenhower Professional Development grants by $69 million, and bilingual-education programs by $38.5 million.

Vocational- and adult-education spending would drop by $90.6 million, coming mostly from consumer-education programs, initiatives for displaced homemakers, and national demonstration programs. Also, administrative funds for direct lending to college students would be cut by $61 million, and education technology would lose $17.5 million.

The compromise rescissions bill seemed to be headed for the finish line after the House passed it June 29 on a 276-to-151 vote.

But Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., and Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., used procedural motions to tie up action on the Senate floor in protest of the bill's proposed cuts in social programs.

Faced with gridlock in the closing hours before a weeklong Independence Day recess, the Senate majority leader, Bob Dole, R-Kan., pulled the bill from consideration. He said it would be reintroduced this week if Democrats would agree to limit debate and withhold amendments.

Negotiations resumed late last week, but it was not clear if Democrats would continue their efforts to block a vote or seek changes to the bill. An aide to Ms. Moseley-Braun said the senator wants to offer amendments.

In the meantime, the White House told federal agencies last week not to spend the money targeted by the bill, even though there is no technical reason that they could not.

"We're not going to turn around and start spending money and violate the spirit of the agreement" between Mr. Clinton and Congressional leaders, said Lawrence Haas, the assistant communications director of the Office of Management and Budget. "The President signed on to this and wants the rescissions bill."

No Pre-emptive Strike

Education officials say that the money in legislative limbo will scarcely be missed, at least in the short run.

"The dollars tied up are relatively small amounts, and many of them would not normally be obligated until late in the quarter," said Sally H. Christensen, the Education Department's deputy assistant secretary for budget.

The department was able to begin spending money for the coming school year on July 1. And in some programs, money could be obligated--or promised to a grantee--virtually the moment checks could legally be written.

But the proposed cuts are too small to make an immediate and major impact, Ms. Christensen said. For example, Safe and Drug-Free Schools programs, which qualify for early funds, would lose $15.9 million of a $481.9 million appropriation.

Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith said the department was not yet ready to distribute funds for other programs, such as competitive grants under Goals 2000.

However, he added, "If this stretches out more than a month, we'd get into a situation of defying normal processes."

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