House Spending Bill Takes Conservative Line
Under the cloud of a threatened presidential veto and sharp discord among its members, the House may vote this week on a restrained education spending bill with implications well beyond dollars and cents.
The proposal, which passed the Appropriations Committee on a party-line vote July 14, would hold total funding for Department of Education programs to $32.9 billion, up 2.5 percent from fiscal 1998's $32.1 billion allotment.
It would let states use funding from the Goals 2000 school reform program and the Eisenhower Professional Development grants as block grants for education reform with few restrictions on spending. And, as promised by the Republican leadership, it includes language that would bar federal funding for the development or implementation of new national tests, continuing a hard-fought battle over one of President Clinton's education priorities.
In many ways, the appropriations bill is a bow to conservative Republicans, who say they have been shortchanged by their party in recent years. Already, the package is provoking strong reactions.
In a move that was unusual so early in the budget process, Mr. Clinton told the House Appropriations Committee before its vote that, unless significant changes were made, he would veto the measure.
"The bill is fundamentally flawed," Mr. Clinton said in a statement. "It cuts $2 billion from our request for educational investment, short-changing initiatives on education reform, on raising educational achievement for our children, and on providing focused help for students who need it most."
The GOP faults Mr. Clinton for counting on funding from a stalled tobacco settlement to support new K-12 initiatives in his budget proposal, and for not proposing budget cuts to offset his new expenditures on class-size reduction and other efforts. Last week, Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert L. Livingston, R-La., sent a strongly written letter to the White House demanding that officials there quickly send "real and do-able" funding alternatives in order for the House to consider paying for any of the administration's proposed initiatives.
The House committee's proposal would increase spending for GOP priorities such as special education state grants, which would see a 5.8 percent boost, to $4.82 billion; and the Chapter VI block grant, which gives aid directly to schools with few strings attached, which would get a $50 million increase, to a total of $400 million.
The bill would also hold funding for Title I grants at the current level of $7.5 billion and sharply cut some of Mr. Clinton's favorite initiatives. For instance, Education Department funding for school-to-work programs would drop from $200 million to $75 million. The school-to-work initiative also receives funds in the Department of Labor budget. Mr. Clinton had requested $125 million in education money for the program, which is scheduled to be phased out by fiscal 2000.
Whether the conservative Republicans who have driven the budget-writing process this year have the votes to get their bill passed in the full House is an open question.
"They're going to have a hell of a time getting the moderate votes," predicted Andrew Rotherham, a legislative specialist with the American Association of School Administrators in Arlington, Va. "There's a lot in that bill that gives a lot of people reason not to like it."
Hitting Existing Programs
The Committee for Education Funding, a Washington-based coalition of education groups that lobbies for increases in federal school aid, blasted the measure as "inadequate and harmful."
The bill is unusual in the amount of language it contains that would alter existing programs, such as the Goals 2000: Educate America Act.
"This bill probably, more than any other, defines the differences in priorities" between the two parties, Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., the Appropriations Committee's ranking Democrat, said shortly before the panel's vote. "This bill was never going to be easy, because of the budget constraints, but it has been made infinitely more difficult."
But Republican leaders did not seem troubled. "This bill will pass. A version of this bill will be signed into law, and life will go on," Mr. Livingston said, also during the hearing.
Republicans on the Appropriations Committee pointed out that the tight constraints of last year's balanced-budget agreement were agreed to by both parties, and that Republicans were working to eliminate or cut programs that they believe are ineffective or not a federal responsibility.
"We have to make choices," said Rep. John Edward Porter, the Illinois Republican who chairs the education appropriations subcommittee.
The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to write and vote quickly on its spending plan when Congress returns Sept. 8.
Vol. 17, Issue 43, Page 30