Black Caucus Loses Bid For Budget Alternative
WASHINGTON — Unhappy with Republican budget plans, Congressional Black Caucus members developed their own spending alternative for next year with generous increases for Black colleges, K-12 education, Head Start and other priorities.
While that plan failed to pass a vote on the House floor, caucus members are still hoping to influence the ongoing budget debate. And although the GOP budget proposal may result in freezes or even cuts for some programs, those who supported the caucus’ plan say the timing is ideal for a major new domestic investment.
“We are blessed by the long, warm rays of a sun of a coming decade of surpluses,” says Rep. Major Owens, D-N.Y., in arguing for the caucus’ budget plan. “Compassion and vision are no longer blocked by the specter of budget deficits.”
One major theme of the plan was a $10 billion investment in new K-12 school facilities. Funds would have been allocated to construct new schools, repair others and make upgrades to ensure wiring for computers and the Internet.
But the caucus also would have reserved another $10 billion for a variety of domestic priorities, including historically Black colleges, TRIO, Head Start, student financial aid and other programs.
Overall, the caucus budget proposed $88.8 billion for education, employment and human services. By comparison, the House Budget Committee would provide $72.6 billion, a figure some critics charge could result in few increases for education.
Owens and other Black Caucus members brought their plan to the House floor, where it was defeated by a 348 – 70 vote. The plan “taxes too much, spends too much and does not pay down the debt,” says one critic, Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn.
Yet caucus members are hopeful they will be heard during this election year’s high-profile budget debate, which will pit the White House against GOP lawmakers. Congress is in the process of developing a big-picture budget plan. Funding for individual programs will be set later in the year.
And while House Republicans are proposing $72 billion for education, employment and human services, their Senate colleagues are offering $75 billion. Both these amounts are below President Clinton’s request of $77 billion.
Most analysts believe the education budget debate will go down to the wire again this year, with the White House and Congress conducting high-stakes negotiations just before the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year. The November elections will add more drama this year, they say, as both parties seek to get political mileage out of the budget debate.
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