Federal File: Weicker Ascends?; Tax Deductions Disputed; House Defers to Court

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As the Senate's Republican Conference began meeting last week to consider committee leadership posts for the 98th Congress, Lowell P. Weicker of Connecticut emerged as the front runner for the post as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. If he is successful in his bid for the post, Senator Weicker will become a major force in shaping the federal education budget.

Generally considered a "maverick" within the gop, Senator Weicker has fought hard against Administration efforts to deregulate and cut funding for programs for the handicapped while serving as chairman of the Subcommittee on the Handicapped. In the 97th Congress, he also has led colorful filibusters against legislation designed to curtail busing for desegregation, promote school prayer, and declare abortion illegal.

The post is available because Senator Harrison H. Schmitt of New Mexico, the current chairman of the appropriations panel, lost his bid for re-election.

Tax Deductions Disputed

Public-education organizations that oppose tuition tax credits have stepped up their opposition to a lawsuit, pending in the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging tuition tax deductions in Minnesota.

The state law grants parents a tax deduction for up to $700 worth of school expenses, including tuition, transportation, and instructional materials. The lawsuit challenging the law, Mueller v. Allen, is regarded as a test case for the constitutionality of federal tuition tax credits.

Last month, nine Minnesota education groups--including state affiliates of the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the American Association of School Administrators--filed a friend-of-the-court brief that claimed the Minnesota law mandates a "subsidy of religious education by the state."

The 27-year-old law was declared constitutional last April by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit on the grounds that it benefits public- and private-school students.

House Defers to Court

The House of Representatives refused last week to take action on another issue that is the subject of a Supreme Court lawsuit--whether private schools that maintain racially discriminatory policies should be eligible for tax-exempt status.

The House voted down an amendment that would have prohibited the Internal Revenue Service from stepping up its enforcement of regulations that require schools to prove that their policies are nondiscriminatory. Similar amendments have been attached to the appropriations bill for the Treasury Department for the past three years, but they have been aimed at barring stricter regulations than are now in force.

The House vote, 269-98, represented a desire by the majority of members to "remain mute" until the Court rules, said Representative Vic Fazio, a Democrat of California. The case is Bob Jones University v. United States.--tm & ew

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