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House Debate on Education Budget Cuts Slated

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Federal education spending would drop by $3.9 billion, and more than 70 school-related programs would be eliminated beginning Oct. 1, under a bill the House is expected to debate this week.

The appropriations process is far from complete, but President Clinton has already threatened to veto the bill, which would gut or kill some of his favored programs while shifting federal policy on a host of social issues, including abortion.

The fiscal 1996 spending bill for the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education departments was approved July 24 by the House Appropriations Committee on a 32-to-21 vote. It would lower the Education Department's discretionary spending from $26.8 billion to $23 billion, a 17 percent cut from the current fiscal year.

"This is not a mean bill, or a bill that will bring about the demise of the planet," Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., the panel's chairman, said at the markup of the legislation. "It's a bill that will help people, and it will pass."

The measure leaves almost no program untouched; the Title I compensatory-education program would be cut by 17 percent, and the Head Start preschool program by almost 6 percent. The bill would terminate funding for the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the heart of President Clinton's education agenda.

"They are destroying the bipartisan effort to assist thousands of local schools to raise their own standards," Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley told reporters at a White House briefing.

Heading for a Shutdown?

These proposed cuts have put education and other social programs at the center of a partisan debate that could shut down some federal agencies this fall.

"I will not stand by as the Republican majority tries to impose this extreme agenda on the nation," Mr. Clinton said in a written statement. "I call on Congress to correct the spending bills before they reach my desk."

The President has also issued a veto threat against a spending bill for the Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development departments that the House was to vote on late last week, because it would kill his national-service initiative as well as slash funds for environmental protection.

"By abolishing AmeriCorps, it would eliminate opportunities for thousands of young people to serve their communities," Mr. Clinton said in a written statement.

The Corporation for National Service, which runs AmeriCorps and other service programs, received $470 million this fiscal year. The Appropriations Committee, by a vote of 10 to 4, defeated an amendment that would have level-funded the corporation next year.

If agreements on spending bills are not reached by Sept. 30, the close of the fiscal year, a stopgap bill extending current policy would have to be passed to keep the government running.

"I think it's theater," Mr. Livingston told reporters. "The President must show he'll stand up to Congress and veto a couple bills, but they will become law."

The steep reductions follow a G.O.P. plan to balance the federal budget by 2002.

Partisan Debate

Several attempts by Democrats to restore funding during three days of committee deliberations on the Labor-H.H.S.-Education bill were defeated.

"We're telling states to do more and more, but they are stretched thin and saying they can't do it all," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., whose amendment to add $1.1 billion in education spending was rejected 30 to 19.

Rep. John Edward Porter, R-Ill., the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees spending in the three agencies covered by the legislation, said most of the programs on the chopping block serve narrow constituencies, do not work, or are not an appropriate federal responsibility.

"If you look at the cuts made to education, they're very small and won't take the federal-government role out of education," Mr. Porter said.

But if Democrats were alarmed by the scope of proposed cuts in programs they support, they were beside themselves over several far-reaching legislative amendments added to the bill.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., the committee's ranking minority member, said the bill was overloaded with nonspending legislation that does not belong in an appropriations bill.

"This bill imposes a radical agenda of the radical right," he said. "It's not a bill on which we can find common ground."

Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Tex., the House majority whip, came to the defense of his colleagues.

"There is a lot to clean up and not enough time. The appropriations bill has to carry the burden," he said.

Weighing in on a perennial area of controversy, the committee voted 29 to 25 to allow states to decline to use Medicaid money to pay for abortions in cases of rape or incest. The committee also agreed, on a 25-to-18 vote, to transfer $193 million from Title X family planning to other health programs.

Another amendment, approved 28 to 20, would bar interest groups that get federal grants from using any of the money for political purposes.

The panel also voted, 25 to 16, for a provision that would require the Education Department to clarify Title IX rules on gender equity in college sports programs or lose funding for civil-rights enforcement next year.

But Republicans joined Democrats to reject an amendment that would have withheld federal funds from universities that give student-fee revenue to off-campus political groups. That vote was 32 to 17.

Indian Programs Revived

Education lobbyists have largely denounced the bill.

"These are the deepest cuts in the 30-year history of federal support of education and continue the pattern of budget balancing on the backs of the most vulnerable citizens," said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools.

The group estimates that the 41 school systems it represents would lose nearly $500 million next year if the bill's allocations become law.

Education groups hope to fare better in the Senate, which is not expected to produce a companion bill until next month. Appropriations leaders have given the subcommittee in charge of the Labor-H.H.S.-Education spending bill in the Senate $1.6 billion more in discretionary funds to work with than its House counterpart had.

Supporters of one education program did get good news last week, as the House voted to preserve Indian-education programs that are run by the Education Department. (See Education Week, 7/12/95.)

Those programs were slated for elimination by the Appropriations Committee, but during floor debate on the Interior Department spending bill, which includes Indian-education funds, lawmakers added an amendment on a voice vote restoring $52.5 million for those activities. The amendment would not provide money to run the Education Department's office of Indian education, which now oversees the programs.

"We must spend the dollars wisely," said Rep. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., the amendment's sponsor. "We must spend it on the children, not bureaucracies."

The Interior spending bill passed the House July 18 by a 244-to-181 vote.

The House will fight more battles over education spending when it takes up a reconciliation package next month. That bill will carry proposals to curb spending in entitlement programs, for which Congress must appropriate enough to serve everyone who is eligible.

Lawmakers also plan to set funding proposals for student-loan programs in that bill because they are an entitlement. The House's budget plans call for $10 billion in cuts to student-loan programs over seven years.

But the appropriations bill would limit administrative spending on the direct-lending program, cap direct-loan volume at 40 percent of new loans, and ban the use of federal funds to advertise the program.

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