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White House officials and Senate leaders agreed late last week on a compromise civil-rights bill, averting a showdown between the Congress and President Bush.

Negotiations had broken down, but were reopened the day the Senate was to have considered a version of the bill the President had promised to veto.

The Senate was expected to act on the compromise bill by late last week or early this week, and approval was expected.

No information was available late last week on the content of the accord. But the central issue was language mandating that hiring and promotion criteria be job-related. (See Education Week, Oct. 2, 1991.)

The Administration had contended that the bill, which would reverse a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions making it harder for employees to win job-discrimination suits, would force employers to hire by quota.

It also argued that the bill would undermine education reform by preventing the use of educational requirements for some jobs.

The measure would also allow victims of sex discrimination to sue for monetary damages, and the accord reportedly includes an agreement on caps for such damage awards.

Tax-Cut Proposals Gaining Momentum

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee last week unveiled a proposal to cut the taxes of middle-income Americans by $72.5 billion over the next five years.

The plan put forward by Senator Lloyd Bentsen, a Texas Democrat, raises the likelihood that the Congress will consider legislation this year to ease the tax burden of families raising children.

Mr. Bentsen's plan would be paid for by cutting defense spending by 5 percent. It would provide families with a $300 tax credit for each child under age 18 who lives in the same household.

The plan would result in a reduction of $600, or 25 percent, in the federal income-tax bill of a family of four with an annual income of $35,000.

To encourage saving, Mr. Bentsen also proposed that all taxpayers once again be allowed to deposit up to $2,000 a year in tax-free Individual Retirement Accounts. Depositors could withdraw their funds without penalty if they used the money to buy a first home, pay for college tuition, or cover certain medical expenses.

Mr. Bentsen's proposal is the latest in a series of tax measures aimed at easing the costs of raising children. (See Education Week, July 31, 1991.)

Unlike several other plans advanced by Democrats, Mr. Bentsen's would not make tax credits refundable for those whose earnings are so small that they are not subject to taxation.

The Bush Administration is expected to continue to insist that any tax bill include a reduction in the tax on capital gains--an idea that Democrats have resisted in the past.

But last week at least one prominent Republican senator--Phil Gramm of Texas--expressed interest in Mr. Bentsen's proposal and openness to negotiating a bipartisan tax package.

Yearlong 'Seminar' On Families Begins

The American Enterprise Institute hosted a forum this month to kick off a yearlong "working seminar" on how to improve the integration of services for disadvantaged children and families.

The project, undertaken by the Washington-based think tank at the request of the White House, involves officials from Cabinet agencies, chairmen and ranking minority members of Congressional panels with jurisdiction over social programs, and social-policy experts.

The discussions will focus on two themes: making programs more efficient through consolidation; and targeting specific populations such as unwed teenage mothers or children with health problems.

"These two approaches seek to spur innovation in the treatment of multi-problem families and provide states and localities with the flexibility to design tailored, integrated programs to meet their particular needs," an [email protected] description of the project stated.

The seminar will spotlight such issues as child welfare, foster care, school readiness, job training, and health care.

The group, which will meet about six times, will consult with scholars and service providers, make recommendations, and disseminate its findings through a variety of channels, possibly including a White House conference.

A federal appeals-court decision that struck down the Environmental Protection Agency's ban on asbestos-containing products shotfid have little effect on the federal school-asbestos program, agency officials said.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit last week struck down part of the ban because the E.P.A. had failed to consider the costs of such a move and the potential dangers of asbestos substitutes, as required by the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

Asbestos-industry and E.P.A. officials noted last week that the law governing asbestos in schools is not subject to the same cost-benefit analysis as is required in the toxic-substances act.

Seventeen health and consumer groups have asked the Agriculture Department to require nutrition disclosure information on all school lunches by 1994.

In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Edward J. Madigan this month, the coalition urged the department to require schools to provide information about appropriate serving sizes, including total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, fiber, sodium, and sugar content in all meals.

A 1990 federal law that requires all processed foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration to provide this information should also apply to food served in schools, said Public Voice for Food and Health Policy, one of the coalition members.

The Education Department has backed away from a proposal to hold banks liable for student-loan defaults in some circumstances.

In a letter to Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, the department's general counsel, Jeffrey C. Martin, said students should not be allowed to "avoid paying their guaranteed loans owed to lenders on the ground that their schools failed to deliver the promised educational services or otherwise defrauded the student."

Earlier this year, the department publicly supported decisions to that effect by a federal district judge in West Virginia and by the Federal Trade Commission.

According to the department's new position, banks should be held responsible for student loans that are in default if the banks knew about prior, unresolved student complaints at a school; if the bank and school are affiliates; if the bank had delegated pre-loan functions to the school; and if the bank paid finder's fees to the school.

The Education Department should take additional steps to ensure the integrity of federal student-aid programs, especially in proprietary schools, the General Accounting Office suggests in a forthcoming report.

The report is based on a survey of four states that recently strengthened regulations to safeguard student-aid dollars.

The G.A.O. suggested that the department could require students to maintain higher grades; ask institutions to take out surety bonds or pay into a tuition-recovery fund; demand independent financial audits rather than audits signed by institution officials; require institutions to improve tuition-refund policies; make eligibility for participation in the program conditional; and refuse automatic eligibility for branch campuses.

Vol. 11, Issue 09, Page 22

Published in Print: October 30, 1991, as Capital Digest
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