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Published in Print: June 9, 2004, as Memo Suggests Education Could Be in Line for Spending Cuts

Memo Suggests Education Could Be in Line for Spending Cuts

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A preliminary White House budget document suggests that, if re-elected, President Bush would request about $1.5 billion less for the Department of Education in fiscal 2006 than he is seeking for the coming year.

But a spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget says the internal memorandum in question is "purely a process document" that does not reflect any budgetary decisions.

The May 19 OMB memo, first publicly disclosed by The Washington Post, provides planning guidance to all federal agencies as they begin preparing submissions for the fiscal 2006 budget, which will go to Congress in February 2005.

"Continuing the strategy of last year’s budget, the 2006 budget will constrain discretionary and mandatory spending while supporting national priorities: winning the war on terror, protecting the homeland, and strengthening the economy," the memo says.

It instructs federal agencies to assume that all accounts are funded at the 2006 level specified in an internal OMB budget database. That document sets discretionary budget authority for the Education Department at $55.9 billion, a decline of $1.5 billion, or 3 percent, from President Bush’s request for fiscal 2005.

"If you propose to increase funding above that level for any account, it must be offset within your agency by proposing to decrease funding below that level in other accounts so that, in total, your request does not exceed the 2006 level assumed for the agency," the memo says.

‘Give and Take’

J.T. Young, an OMB spokesman, says the memo is not the last word on budgetary matters.

"I want to make clear that this is a routine process document that’s put out every year," he said. "This document in no way reflects any final decisions."

The final budget request for education, he said, will be made over the next eight months, with give and take between OMB and the Education Department.

Mr. Young said a review of the previous eight years showed that every year, the final budget request for the Education Department was higher than the figures in the previous year’s projections.

He also noted that President Bush has a strong record of backing additional spending each year for the Education Department. For fiscal 2005, which begins Oct. 1, Mr. Bush proposes an increase of $1.7 billion, or 3 percent.

The memo has come under fire from leading Democrats.

Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, wrote in a May 27 letter to his party colleagues that the "impending cuts" are "a direct result of the administration’s oversized tax cuts, the record-high deficits the Bush policies have generated, and the administration’s stated desire to ‘shrink’ the size of government."

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, discusses the memo on his campaign Web site under the headline: "Bush’s Secret Budget Cuts Exposed."

Vol. 23, Issue 39, Page 30

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