Published Online: May 14, 2003
Published in Print: May 14, 2003, as Federal File

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Bedtime Story

Politics, as we are endlessly reminded, makes for strange bedfellows. The federal impact-aid program tends to generate a barracks-full of odd bunkmates.

This year, as in years past, the $1.19 billion program that aids school districts with a high percentage of tax-exempt federal facilities and American Indian lands, is uniting senators and congressmen whose political ideas generally make them loath to share the Capitol, much less political blankets.

Senators like James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., a fundamentalist with a near- perfect voting score from the Christian Coalition—a self-described "extreme right-wing, radical conservative"—are now shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, the model of a liberal Democrat, in support of increased impact-aid funding.

Compare two of the co-chairs of the House Impact Aid Coalition. Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California had a 20-year Navy career, goes on hunting trips with the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, and chided the Pentagon for what he calls its "politically correct" efforts to combat sexual harassment in the military.

Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, of the famously liberal Kennedy diaspora, in 2000 voted to repeal the federal charter of the Boy Scouts of America because of its ban on gay troop leaders.

But the two work hand in hand on impact aid, which goes to school systems in at least 250 congressional districts.

"The more conservative members are pro-military, and the more liberal side sees Indian issues as a compassionate topic," said John B. Forkenbrock, the executive director of the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools. "As you weave the pattern through, the support gets pretty strange sometimes."

A large coalition of politically polarized members of Congress—many seen as budget hawks— signed on to letters in April asking appropriators to increase impact aid by 15 percent in fiscal 2004, up to $1.375 billion. With a flagging economy, even Mr. Forkenbrock will admit that's a reach. He predicts a 2 percent to 3 percent hike in the end.

President Bush, meanwhile, has chosen to sleep alone, proposing a cut in impact aid.

"There was a lot of media coverage on how can the president be sending troops to war and not fund schools that educate their children," Mr. Forkenbrock said. "We got an awful lot of mileage on that."

—Michelle R. Davis

Vol. 22, Issue 36, Page 23

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