Federal File: Line items; Through the back door

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A fiscal 1992 appropriations bill that is nearing final passage includes a new accounting gimmick that obscures the amount actually allocated for the Education Department--and for which competing explanations have been offered.

The provision lists $325 million for three programs run by the Department of Health and Human Services under the "educational excellence" line in the Education Department's budget, then requires that the money be transferred to H.H.S.

The House version of the bill included one such transfer, $250 million for the Head Start preschool program. A Democratic House aide said that this was intended to underscore the link between Head Start funding and education reform--and to subtly criticize the Administration's less ambitious proposals for Head Start by putting a larger increase in the same account as funds that could be used to implement the Administration's proposed new education programs.

Transfers to programs supporting community health centers and child-development centers were added in the Senate version of the bill and were retained in the final version.

Congressional sources said that Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is chairman of the appropriations subcommittee overseeing education, argued that those programs are also linked to education reform.

But some aides and education lobbyists think Mr. Harkin, who tried during a House-Senate conference to increase spending on health programs at the expense of education programs, wanted to make it look as if the Education Department is receiving more funds under than the bill than it actually is.

Some education lobbyists and lawmakers are incensed over provisions in a recently enacted unemployment-compensation bill that would require lenders to obtain credit checks on student-loan borrowers over the age of 21, and would allow garnishment of defaulters' wages.

They say proponents used a back-door route--presenting the changes as a way to pay for the popular extension of unemployment benefits--to achieve something that champions of the federal student-loan program have successfully resisted for years.

This turns the purpose of the student-loan program on its head," said Representative William D. Ford, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee.

An aide to Mr. Ford said the chairman had been assured by key members the credit provision would not appear in the unemployment bill. --J.M & M.P.

Vol. 11, Issue 13, Page 20

Published in Print: November 27, 1991, as Federal File: Line items; Through the back door
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