House, Senate Debates Postpone Votes on Appropriations
As congressional debate bogged down over an array of spending and philosophical issues late last week, it appeared that the House and the Senate would not vote on their education spending bills until this week.
The Senate had expected to pass an education, labor, and health and human services spending bill with few changes to its $32 billion in education provisions, but it was sidetracked by several health and labor amendments. Members were planning to continue debate this week.
The House bill containing $29.1 billion in discretionary funding for education was also weighed down by debate, partly over the federal government's role in education. Conservative Republicans planned last Friday to offer 100 to 150 amendments--covering a wide variety of education and social programs--to the House bill. House Democrats vowed to respond with proposals of their own. Both chambers must agree on a single spending bill by Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year, or they must pass special legislation to keep the government running after Oct. 1 without a spending agreement.
One point of contention was a new program already in the House bill, HR 2264, that would allot $150 million for a new "whole-school reform" effort to supply funds to needy schools seeking to adopt proven models of reform. The provision was sponsored by Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., the ranking minority member of the House Appropriations Committee. ("Proposal Would Link School Dollars, Proven Models," in This Week's News.)
Rep. David M. McIntosh, R-Ind., protested the provision, saying that he would prefer to see the money sent to states in block grants, without paperwork and regulations attached. Mr. McIntosh and other Republicans also said they were unhappy to see many federal programs receive large increases from a Republican-led, fiscally minded Congress.
But Rep. John Edward Porter, R-Ill., who chairs the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, said that the increases were justified and that many were agreed to in the budget resolution adopted last spring.
"Like it or not, an agreement has to be substantially carried out, and this bill reflects many of the president's priorities," he said. Earlier, he had maintained that the funding was close to President Clinton's request, "but reflects Congress' priorities."
If the House and Senate approve their spending bills as proposed, neither the Goals 2000: Educate America Act nor the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities program would receive the funding increases that the White House had requested. The Goals 2000 allotment would decrease by $17 million under the terms of the House bill, to $460 million. Safe and Drug-Free Schools, a program that has been criticized as frequently ineffective by Congress and the Department of Education, would receive the same amount as last year, $556 million, in both the House and Senate versions.
The House also passed a spending bill amendment last week that would add $155 million to the measure's $4.3 billion allotment for special education. The measure was sponsored by Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee. The addition of the new special education money was offset by reductions in educational research programs. In fiscal 1997, Congress appropriated $4 billion for special education.
The Senate was expected to make few changes to its spending bill, S 1061, which would allot $32 billion for education programs. Most education-related debate in the Senate was expected to center on a move to bar funding for President Clinton's national testing initiative. ("Clinton Team Pulls Out the Stops for Test Plan," in This Week's News.) Last week, the Senate also approved an amendment to the Agriculture appropriations bill that would give $34 million to the Food and Drug Administration to help states enforce bans on cigarette sales to minors.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., a proponent for school choice, withdrew an amendment which would have boosted federal funding for charter schools, after he was assured that the Senate would defer to House appropriators once the bill was passed and sent to a House-Senate conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate spending plans. The Senate bill would "level fund" charters at $51 million, the same as last year's allocation, but the House would increase funding to $75 million--still $25 million shy of Mr. Clinton's request for $100 million.