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Building Support: It's been a frustrating three years for the supporters of federal school construction legislation, but Democrats think they've got the momentum—and strategy—to get a plan passed this year.

In recent weeks, proponents of the so-called Johnson-Rangel bill, HR 4094, have held several events to publicize their cause. Apart from some funding-formula differences, the bill is similar to President Clinton's $5 billion, five-year plan to pay interest on bonds for about $24.8 billion in school construction and renovation.

"It's the third year we've been to Congress with [a construction plan], but I think we have the best chance this year," Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said in an interview shortly after a Sept. 20 press conference.

On Sept. 20, 156 representatives sent a letter to President Clinton, urging him to veto any education spending bill that did not include the school construction package.

The representatives who signed the letter pledged to band together to prevent Republicans from overriding a veto, wrote Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-N.C., a former state schools chief.

"If the opponents of this legislation want a showdown, this letter says loud and clear that we are prepared to fight and we are prepared to win," Mr. Etheridge said in a prepared statement.

Reps. Nancy L. Johnson, R-Conn., and Charles B. Rangel, D- N.Y., say that they have 228 votes—enough bipartisan support to pass HR 4094 in the House—but that Republican leaders refuse to allow the measure to come up for a vote.

Republicans have proposed several separate, smaller bills to amend the tax code to help schools finance construction.

A spokesman for the White House's Office of Management and Budget said, as of last week, that no decision had been made on whether Mr. Clinton would veto a spending bill without construction aid.

—Joetta L. Sack [email protected].

Vol. 20, Issue 5, Page 23

Published in Print: October 4, 2000, as Federal File

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