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Entering the Fray

The Department of Education took direct aim at congressional Democrats in a report issued less than two weeks before this week's midterm elections.

"The Democrats have spent a lot of time criticizing the president's wartime budget while calling for increases in education funding without explaining how they would pay for the increases," said the report, prepared by Deputy Secretary William D. Hansen's office. "Democrats claim that only if they were in charge, education funding would go beyond the record increases President Bush is calling for in his budget."

Offering what it calls a "reality check," the report gives a history lesson. In fiscal 1994, for example, the Democratic-controlled Congress provided $2 billion less for the department than President Clinton had requested.

Joel Packer, a National Education Association lobbyist, said recent events tell a different story.

"Just look at last year. Most of the increases that the Congress provided were not based on the president's budget," he said. "They're now claiming credit for things they didn't support."

President Bush's original fiscal 2002 request for the agency was $4.4 billion below what Congress approved. Democrats led the charge for more money. Mr. Bush's 2003 proposal is nearly $3 billion shy of what the Democratic-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee passed unanimously.

Some observers were struck by the openly partisan language in the department's report.

"My top-of-the-head reaction is a little surprise, but that goes more to the style of the thing," said Roy A. Schotland, a law professor at Georgetown University. "It would have to be 'Vote for Republicans' to cross the line."

Celia Wexler, the director of research for Common Cause, a Washington-based government watchdog group, contended that the "blatant" political rhetoric was "just not appropriate" from a federal agency.

Deputy Secretary Hansen disagreed, saying the department was responding to "misleading" reports issued by Democrats.

"Sometimes in defending your record," he said, "you need to point out the true record of the people who are attacking [you]."

Mr. Clinton's Education Department did not hesitate to attack the GOP, he noted. Indeed, an election-year report from the agency, issued in April 2000, when the GOP controlled Congress, detailed how much the "Republican budget" would cut education.

—Erik W. Robelen

Vol. 22, Issue 10, Page 25

Published in Print: November 6, 2002, as Federal File

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