Timing of Clinton Budget, Outlook for Education Uncertain

By Mark Pitsch — December 09, 1992 4 min read

WASHINGTON--Although President-elect Bill Clinton and his transition teams are already mapping out policies and strategies that will provide the basis for his proposal for next year’s federal budget, many observers doubt he will be able to meet the Feb. 1 deadline set by Congress for submitting a budget.

How much emphasis Mr. Clinton’s first budget will place on education and children, moreover, is also a matter of speculation.

When the new President takes office next month, the deadline for his fiscal 1994 budget proposal will be only 12 days away.

“I would think he’ll send up a letter after the inauguration and say, ‘It’s coming,’ because I don’t think he will make that date,’' said an aide to Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. “Past Presidents have done that and said, ‘Because of inclement weather or unforeseen circumstances, we won’t have it on time.’ ''

Because of changes to the budget process mandated in the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990, the departing President Bush is not required to provide a budget, so he will present only a bare-bones proposal.

The law now directs the President to submit a budget on the first Monday in February, rather than the previously required date, the first Monday after Jan. 3. The earlier deadline would have required the outgoing Administration to present a fully developed budget, while the later date leaves the matter in Mr. Clinton’s hands.

President Bush still could present a budget flush with funding priorities and new initiatives as a statement to the nation, as has been done by previous outgoing Administrations. But budget analysts said he will not do that.

“The President made a decision not to be too political or too difficult for the next Administration,’' said Tom Scully, the associate director for human resources at the Office of Management and Budget. “We’re basically going to do a recap of things we’ve done the last few years.’'

‘A Technical Update’

Mr. Bush’s budget will include descriptions of the President’s accomplishments, historical trends, and developments during Mr. Bush’s Presidency, Mr. Scully said.

“If you want to read about education it won’t take you very long,’' he said.

The budget will include fiscal 1993 spending levels updated to account for inflation, according to Sally Christensen, the Education Department’s director of budget services.

“This will be a technical update of fiscal 1993,’' Ms. Christensen said.

Ms. Christensen, who is one of the agency’s designated contacts for the Clinton transition team, said there should be little difficulty in developing a budget for education programs, despite the narrow timeframe. “I’m sure we’ll be able to handle whatever they want to do,’' she said. “We’ve had short deadlines in the past.’'

But it is unclear whether Mr. Clinton will try to make the Feb. 1 deadline, and whether that date is important to Congress.

The aide to Mr. Harkin said the budget process, at least in regard to the education spending bill, will not be stalled significantly if Mr. Clinton’s budget is not presented on time.

Moreover, he said, it will give the House and Senate appropriations staffs time to develop working relationships with the new officials of the Education Department.

“Putting together a budget is difficult and very dicey politically,’' the aide said. “They’ve got to be careful about it and not rush up here with something that’s going to explode.’'

How High a Priority?

Mr. Clinton has pledged to fully fund Head Start and increase Chapter 1 spending, but those promises may take a back seat to the economic issues he stressed in the campaign: reviving the economy, reducing the deficit, shifting the tax burden, and revamping the nation’s health-care system.

Ira Magaziner, a top Clinton adviser, recently told The Wall Street Journal that he was advocating billions of dollars in increased spending on education and training until he found out the impact that spending would have on the deficit.

A spokesman for Mr. Clinton, when asked last month if education programs will fit into the President-elect’s economic-recovery plan, replied, “We’ll see.’'

Edward R. Kealy, the director of federal programs for the National School Boards Association and a former president of the Committee for Education Funding, offered a similarly cautious assessment.

“As far as a big school-reform initiative, he’s not on record as supporting anything that’s going to require big bucks,’' he said.

Mr. Kealy noted that Mr. Clinton’s signature education initiatives, which may be included in the 1994 budget, are an apprenticeship program and a plan to provide college loans that could be repaid through national service.

Setting the Stage

In addition to developing a budget, the President-elect will have several other difficult fiscal decisions to make shortly after he takes office that could affect the budgetary climate.

On Jan. 21, the day after he is inaugurated, Mr. Clinton must decide whether to adjust the maximum allowable federal deficit, which is established by the 1990 budget act but can be changed by the President under certain economic decisions. By mid-March, Mr. Clinton also must ask Congress to raise the federal debt limit.

A vote in Congress on the deficit ceiling “will be the natural arena for the deficit hawks ... to say, ‘Where are we going with this?’ '' Mr. Kealy said. “That could be a big test for Clinton, who has talked about deficit reduction.’'

If he does not change the deficit limit, Mr. Clinton in effect would be allowing a sequester--or automatic across-the-board budget cut--to take effect with the beginning of the new fiscal year next October.

Mr. Kealy said education lobbyists would urge that education programs, which in the past have been subjected to such sequesters, be looked at as investments and spared the sequester knife.

A version of this article appeared in the December 09, 1992 edition of Education Week as Timing of Clinton Budget, Outlook for Education Uncertain