President, Congress remain at odds over education funding; Clinton wants money used specifically to reduce class sizes


WASHINGTON -- A dispute over who should control new money that President Clinton wants to use to reduce class sizes in public schools tops the list of issues that must be resolved before Congress can complete work on a new budget for the year.

Clinton and Senate Republican leaders focused yesterday on their differences over Clinton's plan to give schools $1.2 billion to hire additional teachers as an obstacle to Congress' plan to adjourn for the year by tomorrow night.

The money would be a second installment on a program that began with a first $1.2 billion approved last year, which Clinton said has resulted in the hiring of 29,000 "highly trained" teachers and has reduced class sizes by an average of five students.

"I am absolutely committed to keeping the promise that I made and the promise that Congress made to reduce class size with more quality teachers in the early grades," Clinton said.

Republican leaders argue that the money should be given to local school districts without dictates about how it can be spent.

"It's not about money," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi. "It's about bureaucracy. Are the decisions made in Washington, or can there be some flexibility at the local level?

"I assume that [Clinton] understands that in some school districts they need more emphasis on quality teaching; in other schools they have other needs," Lott added. "We think that that should be considered."

5 bills remain

Federal school aid is included in the largest of the five outstanding spending bills that must be passed by Congress and signed into law by Clinton before the budget work can be completed.

Eight of the 13 spending measures have been enacted, but much of the government has had to operate on temporary spending authority since the fiscal year began Oct. 1.

White House and congressional negotiators have been meeting sporadically for two weeks to iron out differences, yet many trouble spots remain.

Those include:

A dispute that threatens the payment of $1 billion in overdue U.S. dues to the United Nations. This money has been caught up in a dispute surrounding U.N. family-planning programs.

The administration warns that by ignoring its dues, the United States is in danger of losing its vote in the U.N. General Assembly.

Limitations sought

Lott acknowledged that concern but added, "We also think the administration needs to come to grips with some limitations on taxpayer dollars being used to promote lobbying for abortions around the world."

The president's request for an additional $250 million for his program to buy environmentally sensitive land in New Mexico, California and the Florida Everglades to protect it from development.

"We must support our Lands Legacy Initiative because we value the environment, to set aside precious natural areas for future generations, and reject special-interest riders that would endanger our environment," Clinton said.

The White House and Congress are not far apart on overall spending totals, but they disagree about bookkeeping devices that the Republicans have used to avoid dipping into the Social Security surplus.

Those differences must be resolved to make good on pledges by both sides to leave the Social Security money intact.

A disagreement between the White House and Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat.

Byrd wants legislative language to overturn a federal court decision that limited the practice of mining coal from mountaintops.

Environmentalists say that practice results in the dumping of waste material into streambeds.

The White House has withheld its support for such a provision, arguing that it is not necessary because a federal judge has temporarily blocked the implementation of the court decision.

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