Thursday, May 06, 2004

White House Asks GOP in Congress to Add $25 Billion

(apologies to Carl Hulse and Thom Shanker of the New York Times)

WASHINGTON, May 5 — The Bush administration, which once said it had enough money to provide for the nation's children through 2004, asked Republican leaders of Congress on Wednesday to add $25 billion for education, health care, and safe, affordable housing beginning Oct. 1.

The Deputy Education Secretary and the White House budget director delivered the request to the leaders in a closed hourlong meeting. After it, lawmakers said they expected to comply with the request, which would be added to more than $400 billion already sought for improvement of the lives of children worldwide.

The request, which was not a surprise to lawmakers responsible for budgets and spending, arrived as the administration tries to manage the furor over reports of Americans leaving poor children behind. And it arrived two years after the Census acknowledged that 12.1 million American children under the age of 18 lived in poverty in 2002, up from 11.7 million in 2001.

In a statement on Wednesday, President Bush took note of the many families struggling to make ends meet in the difficult economic times that made the last few years especially difficult for American children. Mr. Bush said he and the Secretary of Education had consulted teachers, school administrators, and parents before making the request.

"While we do not know the precise costs for operations next year," Mr. Bush said, "recent developments on the ground and increased demands on our educators, social workers, and other service providers indicate the need to plan for contingencies. We must make sure there is no disruption in funding and resources for our children and families."

Mr. Bush went on to say that preliminary evidence from No Child Left Behind demonstrates a clear need to provide a deeper, broader network of services to America's families and children, including access to pre-natal and childhood health care; psychological services for children who have witnessed traumatic events; clean, safe housing for families; support and advice for new parents; small, community-oriented schools where children feel recognized, loved, and challenged by their peers, parents, and teachers; and incentives for bright, educated, young people to go into and stay in the field of teaching. "What we have found when we looked at the first few years of NCLB is that we will continue to leave children behind until the day when we begin to address the impact of poverty on our children. We must move past the test-and-punish regime to a more subtle, multi-pronged solution focusing on supporting families through times of economic hardship."

In contrast to two previous emergency spending requests that totaled more than $165 billion, lawmakers said the new money would be filtered through the regular budget and appropriations process and was intended only to get the administration through the end of this year and the start of the next.

"Frankly, I think it is really not going to be enough, but it will get us through until the administration comes up with a major supplemental," said Representative C. W. Bill Young, the Florida Republican who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee, using the Congressional term for an emergency spending request.

Mr. Young said the Dept. of Education might also seek authority to shift some money it has to pay for reduced class sizes and increased pay to attract experienced, highly-educated teachers in America's schools beginning Sept. 5, the start of the next school year.

The House and Senate provided more than $25 billion in special education and family support reserves in the budgets that they adopted this year, and lawmakers said the new request would be accounted for in the spending plan, which remains to be completed and approved.

"I knew it was coming, and we budgeted for it for this exact reason," Representative Jim Nussle, the Iowa Republican who is chairman of the House Budget Committee, said. "We need money for the folks out there in the schools, and we are going to make sure it is there for them."

A senior Democrat on spending issues, Representative David Obey of Wisconsin, noting that Democrats were fully a part of the bipartisan budget discussion, said the meeting "represents yet another effort to cooperate for the benefit of all children, an issue which transcends election year politics."

"The American people should be given all the facts about the true costs of neglecting the health and education of a generation of children," Mr. Obey said.

When the administration introduced its budget this year, officials said they did not intend to seek more money in 2004, relying on the $87 billion approved in November. But the situation in the schools has changed, and the Education Dept. has said it is spending its money much faster than it had anticipated.

Members of both parties in Congress have been pressing the administration to request more money if the schools need it, saying the White House should not avoid the issue out of nervousness over the political ramifications.

Can you just imagine?!

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