WASHINGTON -- Amid the crackle of partisan bickering, Senate Democrats sought to upstage President Bush's education program yesterday by slamming their own proposal through the Labor and Education Committee on a party-line vote.
The Democrats brought up their version of a $472 million education enrichment bill in what Republicans charged was an attempt to pre-empt the expected unveiling today of Mr. Bush's education package.
"They [Democrats] know that President Bush is making great headway on the education issue, and they are scurrying to be players in the game," charged Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah.
"It is premature [to act on it]," he said. "The president will unveil his plans for education [today]. . . . We should wait for a coordinated education plan."
But Democrats retorted that Mr. Bush and his new education secretary, Lamar Alexander, had largely excluded them from forging a new education proposal.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., chided the panel's Republicans for holding private meetings with Mr. Alexander and White House officials Tuesday without inviting key Democrats. "If you're going to talk about bipartisan cooperation," he snapped, "what about that meeting?"
Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said, "This has become a very sharply divided partisan exercise."
The Kennedy bill, co-sponsored by most of the Senate's Democrats, would provide substantial money, beyond traditional federal support for schools, for programs to combat adult illiteracy and to try to reduce the school dropout rate. It also would establish new scholastic achievement benchmarks for elementary and secondary pupils and ways to track their progress.
The Democrats also have proposed new funds for experimental school management programs in which local teachers and administrators would tailor the curriculum to student needs. The bill would also provide $100 million to encourage establishment of "model schools of excellence," along with additional money to strengthen science and mathematics instruction.
Those are expected to be primary elements of the president's proposal.
As the Senate committee voted, 10-7, to report its bill to the floor, the House voted, 261-158, to adopt a similar amendment to the 1992 budget resolution.
Sponsored by Representative William D. Ford, D-Mich., the amendment proposes new school programs that would be financed by cutting 1 percent across the board from most other domestic programs.