Clinton offers a new showdown with Congress over education Republicans warned of veto if appropriations measure falls short


SAN CARLOS, Calif. -- Setting himself on a collision course with the Republican Congress, President Clinton vowed yesterday to veto a mammoth spending bill if it contains amendments blocking his national school standards and testing plan or channeling money away from his other cherished federal education programs.

The House has passed an amendment to stop the school testing program, while the Senate has voted to take money away from many federal education programs, such as bilingual education, and give it instead to school boards in block grants.

"If Congress sends me partisan legislation that denies our children high national standards or weakens our national commitment to stronger schools," Clinton said in his weekly radio address yesterday, "I'll have to give it the failing grade it deserves, and I'll veto it."

The House and Senate must negotiate with each other over whether either or both of the amendments should survive as part the $279 billion spending bill for the departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services.

A veto of the spending bill, one of 13 that pay to run the federal government, would also block financing for a number of the president's favorite initiatives, including HOPE scholarships to help pay for the first two years of college, which he praised in the radio address. Further, it would resurrect the specter of gridlock in Washington.

But pointing to public polls that show the president's approval at an all-time high and national education standards as an overwhelmingly popular issue, White House aides expressed confidence that Clinton would be the political winner in such a fight. Indeed, they seem to be spoiling for one.

The day after he dropped his daughter, Chelsea, at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Clinton turned his attention yesterday to crusading for his education goals and to raising money for the Democrats. He planned to raise almost $1 million at three San Francisco fund-raisers.

After surprisingly amicable negotiations to set the outlines of a balanced-budget agreement, Clinton's education standards plan is emerging as the first devil in the details of this year's budget. Clinton is asking for a relative pittance, $16 million, to develop tests that would measure performance against new, voluntary standards in reading and math.

But an odd House coalition has staked out its opposition. Conservative Republicans oppose the test as a superfluous federal intrusion on a matter they say is best left to states and localities.

Liberal Democrats also oppose the tests, arguing that students in poor districts would be condemned to failure.

With the enthusiastic support of Speaker Newt Gingrich, the House barred the Department of Education from spending any money to develop the tests.

Clinton said of his opponents in the House, "They've cast their votes against better schools and for a status quo that is failing too many of our children."

The Senate endorsed Clinton's testing plan, under which all fourth-graders would be tested in reading and all eighth-graders in math. But it has also added the block-grant amendment.

Clinton warned that federal efforts to create more charter schools and provide more computers would "virtually be abolished" by the amendment.

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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