Legislative Update

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Congress Votes To Amend Balanced-Budget Law

Both the House and Senate last week passed debt-extension measures including a revised version of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings balanced-budget law.

If signed by President Reagan, the legislation would establish a substitute for the automatic-budget-cut mechanism that was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court and ease the original law's deficit targets.

Education advocates oppose any revival of the law, which they contend threatens education programs disproportionately because of the way they are structured.

"We've all been forced to live with the implications of Gramm-Rudman, so I don't see a lot of change here," said Susan Frost, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding. "We've always opposed the automatic sequestration procedure."

"I wouldn't even begin to predict4whether there will be percentage cuts this fall or how big," she said.

If the law is enacted, the Congress could avoid across-the-board budget cuts for fiscal 1988 by passing a spending plan with $23 billion in budgetary savings, and automatic cuts would be limited to that amount.

For fiscal 1989, the cuts would total $36 billion or the amount needed to reduce the deficit to $136 billion. Future targets would be set at $100- billion for 1990, $64 billion for 1991, $28 billion for 1992 and zero for 1993.

In contrast, original Gramm-Rudman-Hollings targets were $108 billion for 1988, $72 billion for 1989, $36 billion for 1990, and zero for 1991.

Congressional leaders view the measure as a way to force President Reagan to choose between automatic defense cuts and a tax increase they plan to propose as part of a deficit-reduction package.

Mr. Reagan must now decide whether to set up that scenario or8veto a budget-cutting measure he once supported.

Panel Begins Hearings

On Education, Economy

In a House-Senate hearing last week, the pollster Louis Harris told lawmakers that the public is "way ahead of its leaders" on the issue of education reform and urged them to "run at breakneck speed to catch up."

The session, chaired by Representative James H. Scheuer, Democrat of New York, was the first in a series of eight that will focus on the link between education, competitiveness, and the economy.

The hearings before the Joint Economic Committee will extend through November and examine issues from teacher education to workforce literacy and training.

Mr. Harris, who has recently completed a survey of public attitudes about the nation's education system, also told congressional leaders to expect education to dominate the 1988 elections.

He said 75 percent of voters support increasing spending on education "to make minority students fully productive members of the labor force" and they are willing to contribute 2 percent of their total incomes in higher taxes to pay for a basic overhaul in education.

The committee also heard retired U.S. Navy Admiral James D. Watkins tell of his experience as personnel director for the Navy. He said in the past decade the Navy has had to offer basic-skill remediation programs to one out of every four recruits.

"I wonder why society has remained so quiet in bearing the double burden and cost of early schooling and training only to be followed by costly workplace remediation in the same disciplines," said Admiral Watkins. He called for the formation of a national forum on youth to formulate broad national policy objectives.

Secretary of Labor William E. Brock and Stephen Cohen, co-director of the Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy, also addressed the committee.

The witness list for future hearings includes Governors Bill Clinton4of Arkansas, Robert Orr of Indiana, and James Blanchard of Michigan; Owen B. Butler, retired board chairman of the Procter & Gamble Company; Marshall S. Smith, dean of the Stanford University Graduate School of Education; and Bettye Topps, principal of McKinley High School in Washington, D.C.

At the next hearing, set for Oct. 1, the panel will hear testimony on "why high-school students fail to meet the standard and what to do about it."

The management practices of Madeleine C. Will, an assistant secretary in the Education Department, have become the subject of a Congressional inquiry.

Representative Ted Weiss, the New York Democrat who heads the House Subcommittee on Human Resources and Intergovernmental Relations, has asked the Education Department to make a written response to complaints about Ms. Will's administration from state vocational-rehabilitation directors. (See Education Week, Sept. 23, 1987.) Ms. Will heads the office of special education and rehabilitative services.

Vol. 07, Issue 04

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