Plan To Shift Defense Funds to Education Blocked

By Julie A. Miller — May 02, 1990 5 min read
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Washington--The House last week began debate on a 1991 budget blueprint that would increase education spending by $2.5 billion above inflation.

Before the start of floor consideration, however, the House leadership prevented consideration of an amendment that would have shifted an additional $850 million from defense to education.

The House is expected to complete action on the plan this week.

The Senate Budget Committee, meanwhile, began work on its budget resolution last week and may clear it for floor action this week.

Before the House began debate April 26, the Rules Committee decided to allow only amendments that amount to complete substitutes, denying Representative Dale E. Kildee, Democrat of Michigan, the opportunity to present the amendment that would have favored education.

The House leadership opposed amending the budget plan, and a leadership aide said they did not want to upset the compromise worked out with Leon E. Panetta, the Democrat from California who is chairman of the Budget Committee. (See Education Week, April 25, 1990.)

Education lobbyists said their head counts indicated that the full House would have approved the motion, which was defeated at the committee level by a vote of 21 to 14, had it been offered.

The House defeated two proposed substitutes before adjourning last week. A plan presented by Representative John R. Kasich, Republican of Ohio, which would have frozen spending for most programs at 1990 levels, failed 305 to 106.

Representative William E. Dannemeyer, Republican of California, of4fered a plan to cut the deficit by freezing spending, cutting entitlement programs, and refinancing the public debt; it failed on a 354-to-48 vote.

A proposal offered by the Congressional Black Caucus, which would substantially increase education funding, is to be considered this week before the House votes on the final budget package.

Big Increases Considered

While the House budget’s $2.5 billion would amount to the largest increase for education in many years, advocates expect more this year, with the Congress almost certain to enact significant cuts in defense spending.

The budget resolution annually adopted by the Congress does not legally bind appropriations panels, which allot funds to specific programs, but in practice they usually follow its guidelines.

“We want to make sure that the budget resolution doesn’t undercut where Appropriations is headed, and this is too low,” said Susan Frost, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding. “With the Kildee amendment, it would be in sync with what [appropriators] are talking about.”

Aides on the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees education spending said the panel’s chairman, Representative William H. Natcher, Democrat of Kentucky, is tentatively planning to increase education spending by slightly less than $4 billion.

“He’s said that fiscal ’91 is the year when we should be changing our priorities,” an aide to Mr. Natcher said.

Aides also confirmed that other influential members of the Appropriations Committee have told Mr. Natcher that they would favor shifting the lion’s share of money saved through defense cuts to the programs overseen by his subcommittee, and specifically to education.

And a Senate appropriations aide said that committee’s chairman, Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, is also inclined to devote much of any “peace dividend” to education and training programs.

Several members of the Senate Budget Committee plan to offer budget guidelines or amendments that could provide more education funding than the House budget, but observers agreed the outcome is difficult to predict.

The committee’s chairman, Senator Jim Sasser, Democrat of Tennessee, has proposed a budget plan that would devote $46.7 billion to the spending category that includes education, compared with $48.75 billion in the House plan.

He has said, however, that he put it on the table just to generate discussion, and he led the committee last week into a drafting process he hopes will create the consensus he could not achieve in private negotiations.

The panel has begun by discussing different options for an overall budget structure--some generated by Mr. Sasser’s staff and some by other senators--that do not specify recommendations for specific program areas. Instead, the plans delineate the amount they would cut from defense, nondefense programs, and entitlements, and how much they would raise with new revenues. Some also call generally for increases in domestic spending.

Once a majority adopts a framework, Mr. Sasser said, the panel will discuss how much to devote to specific spending categories or particular programs.

Senate Panel Action

Last week, the committee rejected, by votes of 14 to 7, the two most fiscally conservative proposed frameworks, each of which called for domestic-spending cuts that would drop overall spending below current levels when adjusted for inflation.

Two amendments that would have added a $6.4-billion oil-import tax to one of the proposed frameworks, with a third of the proceeds specifically devoted to education and another third to deficit reduction, were defeated by the committee.

The amendment offered by Senator Tim Wirth, Democrat of Colorado, would allot the remainder to environmental programs, while the one proposed by Senator Paul Simon, Democrat of Illinois, would devote it to health initiatives.

Mr. Wirth’s amendment nearly passed, failing on a tie vote of 11 to 11. Two Republicans voted for it, as did most Democrats, and it would have passed if Senator Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, the panel’s ranking Republican, had not changed his vote from “yes” to “no.”

The close vote encouraged education advocates, and Mr. Wirth vowed he would offer his amendment again as the drafting process proceeds.

Mr. Simon’s amendment was defeated 13 to 8, receiving no Republican votes.

Some observers say whatever budget emerges from the Congress will be rendered moot by a budget summit between lawmakers and the White House.

Republicans in both chambers argue that a budget drafted without the President’s input is doomed, and some Democrats agree privately that a summit is in the offing. Mr. Panetta, for example, recently said as much at a gathering of lobbyists.

Ms. Frost warned, “We could get high numbers [from Congressional committees] and have them go into a summit and give it all away.”

A version of this article appeared in the May 02, 1990 edition of Education Week as Plan To Shift Defense Funds to Education Blocked


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