College students provide earful for Republican budget-cutters Campus forum elicits critical evaluations

April 27, 1996|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

VILLANOVA, PA. -- House Republican budget-cutters sought from students here yesterday the first outside-the-Beltway reviews of their year battling the deficit. On Broadway, this show would close.

Budget Committee Chairman John R. Kasich of Ohio and other members of the tight-fisted band that braved two government shutdowns as they tried to trim sacred-cow programs -- such as Medicare and Medicaid -- had hoped to find support if not appreciation from the generation they believe has most to gain from stemming the tide of federal debt.

Although the committee has held nearly a dozen hearings in the last year, this appearance -- a spirited three-hour event that attracted more than 600 at Villanova -- was the group's first on a college campus. While students were sympathetic to efforts of the House Budget Committee, they said they were disappointed with the results.

"They didn't get one key issue," complained Jeffrey Baker, a junior from Levittown, Pa., referring to the GOP score on the budget compromise reached with Mr. Clinton this week.

"Nothing was done on entitlements, AmeriCorps was saved, EPA got back a big chunk of money, all the big departments are still getting funded at the same level," he said. "I'm upset that they compromised so far to the left."

In most cases, the dozens of students who responded to Mr. Kasich's appeal for their "gut" reaction, said they thought the Republican's penny-pinching program was misdirected.

"This economy is changing, and you are blaming the people who are on the very edge of it," said My Padmalingam, a junior from Wilmington, Del., who was referring specifically to GOP plans to curb welfare programs. "It seems like you sit up there and don't really know what's going on."

Mr. Kasich's warning to the students that they are being "ripped off" by a system that is spending more than it can afford today by borrowing against their future earnings was no match for their immediate economic fears.

Chetana Juis, a senior who took three years off from college to work as a preschool teacher, complained that this work pays only $6 a hour even for "an educated woman doing an important job."

Many students protested that the Republicans were hitting them with a double whammy: curbing the growth of federally backed student loans at the same time the GOP opposes an increase in the minimum wage.

"We get paid the minimum wage," said sophomore JoAnn Garbin. "It doesn't even level out with what we have to pay out. Just being a student costs a fortune."

Rep. Chris Shays, a Connecticut Republican, called the afternoon field trip a "humbling experience."

"I saw and heard a lot of anger that surprised me," Mr. Shays told reporters after the hearing. "I anticipated something a little different."

Only Rep. Patsy Mink of Hawaii, the lone Democrat of the seven committee members who made the trip, sounded pleased with what she heard.

"I'm in full agreement with your perspective," she told one student who expressed concern about cuts that seem aimed at children, the poor and the elderly. "What we need is to capture the spirit of what's been expressed here into legislation."

Mr. Kasich and other committee members were already feeling frustrated and depressed when they left Washington by train yesterday morning.

Their yearlong effort had resulted in the deepest federal budget cuts in five decades, $23 billion in fiscal 1996 alone. They eliminated 200 relatively small federal programs, such as a tick-fighting mission in Puerto Rico.

But they didn't get the big prize they were after -- a balanced budget in seven years. And they were forced to compromise on all the smaller items, such as AmeriCorps and the EPA that Mr. Clinton highlighted as his priorities.

Even the students yesterday picked up on what committee members thought was strictly Washington talk: criticism that that they didn't finish work on this year's budget until seven months into the year.

"We're in the middle of a revolution here. In a revolution, you upset some furniture and break some china," Mr. Kasich told the students.

"I don't care if the trains don't run on time if the result is that we're $23 billion less in debt."

This is only the beginning, he and others say. Next week the budget cycle begins again with a new proposal to balance the budget in six years starting in 1997.

And Mr. Kasich, a boyish baby-boomer who laced all his comments with references to rock stars and local hangouts, says he plans to make a tour of college campuses in search of the political support he needs.

"Our message we're trying to get across is that we're having a party that they have to pay for, and they have to clean up after," said Rep. Jim Kolbe, an Arizona Republican, referring to benefits for the elderly financed by the young.

"And, by the way, they're not invited to this party, because by the time they get to that age, there won't be anything left."

At Villanova, they seemed to understand that. When Mr. Kasich asked how many expected they would see no benefits from Social Security and Medicare, nearly all 600 in the audience raised their hands.

Pub Date: 4/27/96

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