House Panel Backs Democratic Alternative to Bush Budget

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Washington--The House Budget Committee last week approved a Democratic alternative to the Administration's fiscal 1991 budget that calls for $2.5 billion more in funding for education programs than would be needed to maintain current services.

The Democrats' plan also includes $600 million above the 1990 "baseline" for Head Start and $1.4 billion to implement a new child-care program.

The plan--hammered out over the past several weeks by Representative Leon A. Panetta of California, chairman of the Budget Committee, along with other Democratic leaders-- calls for increasing discretionary domestic spending by $6 billion in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

But it also proposes to balance the budget by 1995, largely with gradually increasing cuts in military spending that would pare away 25 percent of the defense budget over the next five years.

The Democrats propose to raise $13.9 billion in new revenues next year, the same amount proposed by the President.

The Budget Committee approved the Democratic plan last week on a straight party-line vote of 21 to 14.

Mr. Panetta said he hoped to move the bill to the floor this week.

The Senate Budget Committee, meanwhile, is expected to begin work on its version of the measure this week.

By setting spending and deficit-reduction targets for five fiscal years, Mr. Panetta's spending plan departs from the usual practice of focusing only on the upcoming year.

Targeting Defense Funds

Critics inside and outside the Congress have long argued that a single-year focus discourages meaningful, long-term deficit reduction.

Its centerpiece is the Democrats' attempt to gradually cash in on a ''peace dividend."

The proposal calls for "large" reductions in budget authority for defense in 1991, but "recognizes that actual spending can be reduced only gradually," and cuts only $7.9 billion in outlays, the amount actually to be spent in fiscal 1991, from the Administration's request.

The plan also calls for removing Social Security from deficit calculations, a move Democrats claim "exposes" the true nature of the deficit.

Currently, surpluses in the Social Security trust fund are essentially counted as revenues, decreasing the reported amount of the deficit.

The Democrats' proposal calls for achieving a budget surplus that does not count the Social Security funds by 1995.

"This is a five-year budget for rebuilding America at home and re-establishing American economic competitiveness in the future," Mr.8Panetta said at a news conference.

Math, Science Initiatives

The Democrats propose a total of $48.7 billion in the 1991 fiscal year for the budget category that includes education, with actual outlays projected at $43.1 billion.

The proposal calls for $60.9 billion in spending authority for the education, training, and social-services category by 1995, with outlays of $59.2 billion.

In addition to the $2.5 billion targeted for other education programs, the plan calls for $1.5 billion in 1991 spending on programs to increase the nation's competitiveness, including "new and expanded math and science education" initiatives.

The proposal, Mr. Panetta added, would bolster education programs "with proven track records," including Chapter 1 and Head Start. It also calls for increases in vocational-education spending "to train, retrain, and upgrade employed and unemployed workers in the new skills that will be demanded by the labor market."

However, the budget resolution eventually adopted by the Congress will not be strictly binding on appropriations committees, which allot funds to specific programs.

Republican Response

At last week's committee meeting, Republicans largely dismissed the Democratic plan.

"What this amounts to is that we are voting for the President's budget, and they're going to vote for4their proposal, and then we'll go on to a summit," Representative Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania said in an interview before the markup.

"I say, 'Let's get to the summit,"' added Mr. Goodling, the ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee.

Lawmakers from both parties argued that any savings from a potential reduction in military spending would be better used to reduce the deficit than to finance new programs.

Meanwhile, some Democrats attempted unsuccessfully to amend the plan to siphon even more money from defense into social programs.

Representative Dale E. Kildee, Democrat of Michigan, sponsored a measure that would have transferred an additional $850 million in budget authority from the defense budget to education.

"In any other year, I think advocates for education would declare this [spending plan] a victory," he said.

But, because of the rapid pace of political change in Eastern Europe and the reduced threat of invasion by Warsaw Pact forces, he said greater economies should be made in defense spending.

Mr. Panetta led the opposition, arguing that he had carefully negotiated agreements on defense cuts with the chairmen of the House armed services and defense appropriations panels.

"We have a significant sum here [for education]," he said.

The amendment was defeated on a voice vote.

Vol. 09, Issue 31

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