Conferees Are Deadlocked Over Reducing 1992 Budget for Education, Social Services

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WASHINGTON--Despite two days of debate last week, appropriations conferees were unable to break a deadlock over how to trim their 1992 social-services spending bill to meet budgetary restrictions.

The leader of the Senate delegation argued that most of the reductions should come from education programs; his House counterpart rejected the idea.

The impasse means the $2.1-billion increase for discretionary education programs previously voted by the conferees hangs in the balance as they reconvene this week.

When the conference committee first met to reconcile the widely divergent appropriations bills passed by the House and the Senate for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, they generally accepted both the higher House allocations for education programs and the higher Senate marks for health programs. (See Education Week, Oct. 23, 1991.)

That meant the bill's total cost would be $814 million over the $59.3 billion that was allocated by appropriators to the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

Last week, Representative William K. Natcher, the Kentucky Democrat who is chairman of the House subcommittee, proposed that $405 million be cut from preliminary allocations for education programs, $228 million from health and social-service programs, and $35 million from the Job Training Partnership Act. Mr. Natcher would raise the remaining $145 million by rescinding some of the funding provided for a new child-care block grant in the fiscal year just ended.

Under Mr. Natcher's proposal, an $828-million increase for the basic Chapter 1 program included in the preliminary allocations would be cut by $125 million. He would also cut $250 million that the conferees had set aside to fund new education-reform programs, and instead allow the Administration to take that amount from Chapter 1 if new legislation is enacted.

In addition, Mr. Natcher would cut $130 million from the primary federal vocational-education program, which conferees had tentatively agreed to increase by about $240 million.

Staking Out Positions

But Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is chairman of the Senate subcommittee, insisted that even more of the cuts be borne by education programs. He argued that they had received the lion's share of funding under the preliminary allocations and would still fare much better than other programs ff the tentative marks were reduced further.

"You won," Mr. Harkin told Mr. Natcher. "Those huge increases you got for education are there. They will be there. The education community owes you a great debt."

"I am seeking some balance," he said.

Mr. Harkin accepted some of the cuts sought by Mx. Natcher, but he rejected the child-care rescission and any cuts in the program that helps poor people with home-heating costs.

The Iowa senator proposed instead that $250 million be raised by taking slightly more than 1 percent from each program in the bill. "That would take $320 million more out of education, and we just can't do it," Mr. Natcher replied.

Senators generally supported Mr. Harkin's contention that education programs had been disproportionately favored in the tentative agreement, while most House members backed Mr. Natcher's rejection of an across-the-board cut.

When the conferees reconvened for a second day of debate, Mr. Harkin presented a proposal that added $120.8 million to Mr. Natcher's $405 million in education cuts and also included $47.2 million in cuts to labor and health programs.

Mr. Harkin proposed to raise the remaining $250 million with "undistributed" cuts in each agency's budget, allowing the secretaries of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education to decide which programs to cut, up to a limit of 1 percent for each program.

Mr. Natcher flatly rejected that concept, and reiterated his opposition to further cuts in education.

"I think I made a mistake to suggest the $405 million," he said.

At an Impasse

The session ended with the conferees at an impasse and some members predicting that they would need to extend the continuing resolution the government is operating under past the end of the month.

"We have two problems here," said Representative David R. Obey, Democrat of Wisconsin. "I think the Senate still thinks there is a snowball's chance in hell that the House will buy an across-the-board cut."

On the other hand, Mr. Obey said, "I don't think it will hurt children to take a small amount from Chapter 1, and I think the House should consider that."

Arguing that education research was "becoming politicized," he also suggested cuts in Stew Schools, the Fund for the Improvement and Reform of Schools and Teaching, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or other research programs.

Susan Frost, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, an umbrella group that lobbies on behalf of education organizations, said her group would urge conferees to ask the Appropriations committees for more money to work with rather than make further cuts.

The low allocation given to the Labor-n.n.s.-Education subcommittees earlier this year "has come home to roost," Ms. Frost said. "Now preschool children are being pitted against school-age children, and essential health needs are being pitted against education programs."

'A Million Scenarios'

"It's hard to predict" what will happen if conferees have to make cuts, Ms. Frost said. "There are a million possible scenarios, and all of them are bad for education." But observers and committee aides agreed that some of the cuts will inevitably come from education programs, particularly Chapter 1, which had been slated for a particularly large increase.

It appears that one almost certain casualty will be the $150-million reserve that had been set aside for new education programs, such as those proposed by the Administration in its America 2000 reform strategy.

Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said that Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander had requested that the money be segregated, rather than authorized as a transfer from Chapter 1. If no new programs were authorized, Mr. Specter said, the Secretary would present a proposal for spending the funds for Congressional approval.

'The Secretary is concerned that people who are more interested in Chapter 1 than America 2000 will lobby against America 2000" if funding is authorized as a transfer, Mr. Specter said.

Democrats answered that proposal with chuckles, and Mr. Natcher said he wanted to ensure that the money went to Chapter 1 if no new programs were approved.

Vol. 11, Issue 09, Page 20

Published in Print: October 30, 1991, as Conferees Are Deadlocked Over Reducing 1992 Budget for Education, Social Services
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