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Clinton Budget To Include Campaign Proposals

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Washington

President Clinton will merge the pieces of his education agenda into a mammoth budget bill he will propose early next year, he and his advisers say.

Mr. Clinton's plan to balance the federal budget will include three school initiatives that will add almost $50 billion to the amount the federal governments spends on education over the next five years, Department of Education and White House officials said as they prepared for the president's second term.

Tax incentives for a college education--an item carrying a $42 billion price tag over five years--will top Mr. Clinton's wish list when he starts negotiating with the Republican-led Congress, the president said in his first news conference after winning re-election.

"Our highest priority must be education, especially college opportunities," Mr. Clinton said Nov. 8. "So I will work to see to it that this balanced budget includes the education tax cuts I outlined during the campaign."

Mr. Clinton's plan to provide 1 million volunteers to tutor young children in reading and his proposal to subsidize school construction also will be in his budget bill, to be unveiled in February or March, according to Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith and Mr. Clinton's education adviser, Michael Cohen.

School technology will be the only campaign priority not included in the budget bill. Technology programs will be financed under annual appropriations bills that cover the lion's share of federal education programs.

The total package, both advisers said, will be a way to meet goals Mr. Clinton repeated often on the campaign trail: Every 8-year-old should read at the third grade level; every 12-year-old should attend a school linked to the Internet; and every 18-year-old should be able to go to college.

"You'll hear that over and over," Mr. Smith said.

Republican leaders have so far sounded conciliatory toward Mr. Clinton following this month's elections. They say they want to join him in writing a bill to balance the budget by fiscal 2002. Although Mr. Clinton proposed a plan to meet that goal over the same time period, he did not endorse that goal in his Nov. 8 news conference.

But they also are hinting they won't compromise their intention to reduce the size of the federal government and lower taxes.

"If he reverts to his old agenda of expanding government ... and, if his 'bridge to the future' turns out to be a toll bridge for the taxpayers, then we will resist with every fiber of our being," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said in a radio speech the day after Mr. Clinton's news conference.

To pay for his new initiatives, Mr. Clinton in the past has suggested ending tax loopholes, auctioning broadcast rights, and lowering future spending. Mr. Lott and other GOP leaders are not saying if they will accept those offsets.

Quick Action Needed

In addition to the education initiatives in the balanced-budget bill, the new 105th Congress will need to renew several existing federal programs, including student aid, special education, and vocational education.

"There is a lot of work to be done," Mr. Cohen said. "This is a huge, huge agenda."

If Mr. Clinton wants to ensure his new programs are enacted, he needs to act quickly, according to an official who worked in President Reagan's second term.

"The first year of a re-elected president will be the best time to enact a legislative agenda," said Frank J. Donatelli, who worked on the transitions for both of Mr. Reagan's terms and is now a lawyer with Akin Gump, a Washington lobbying firm.

By 1998, Congress will focus on other agendas as members face another campaign season, Mr. Donatelli pointed out. And after the midterm elections, the lame duck president will likely have little influence over Congress.

As they prepare for the opening of Congress in January, Mr. Clinton and his education advisers clearly intend to move quickly, emphasizing the new programs.

The so-called Hope Scholarships would offer parents of high school graduates a $1,500 federal income-tax credit for each of the first two years of college, so long as they maintain a B average.

The plan would let families with incomes under $80,000 opt instead for a tax deduction of up to $10,000 a year for college costs or job training, if that plan would be better for them. Mr. Clinton would put no limit on the number of times a person could take the tax deduction, making it a way for workers to enhance their job skills or prepare for a new profession, Undersecretary Smith said.

The school construction initiative would create $5 billion in interest subsidies for K-12 school districts over five years, either to repair schools or build new ones.

"By reducing the cost of borrowing, we can leverage an additional $20 billion," Mr. Cohen, the White House adviser, told members of the Public Education Network last week. "That's a small, significant step," he said, toward coming up with the $112 billion the General Accounting Office estimates districts need for facilities. ("Senators Say Funding To Fix Schools Likely Budget Target," Feb. 8, 1996.)

Meanwhile, the president's plan to train volunteer reading tutors for young children would need $1.75 billion over five years. That would be in addition to the $1 billion for the AmeriCorps national-service program, Mr. Smith said.

Congressional Agenda

In addition to President Clinton's new proposals, Congress also must consider changes to three major federal education laws next year.

Higher Education Act: The program authorizes spending on the Pell Grant student-aid program, student loans, and several smaller student-aid and college-grant programs. Republican critics of Mr. Clinton's direct-lending program may attempt to cap its growth or eliminate it altogether. Spending authority for higher education programs expires Oct. 1, but many lobbyists predict Congress will be unable to finish a bill by then and will need to pass a temporary extension.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: The law is up for review again next year because Congress failed to complete a bill this year. The House passed a bill, but the Senate version got bogged down in internal debates. Senators were at odds about how to distribute the program's $3.8 billion in annual funding and how much authority schools should have to discipline special education students.

Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act: This law also will be on the agenda for the second time. Last year, the House and the Senate passed plans to merge the $1.1 billion federal vocational education program with other job-training programs to create block grants to states. Attempts to reach a compromise broke down, mainly because of complaints from conservative groups that the bills would start tracking students into careers too early.

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