Community service in jeopardy

May 26, 1995

Republicans in the House of Representatives want to axe President Bill Clinton's national service programme which gives young people money for college in return for good deeds in the community.

They also propose to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a series of vocational education and job training programmes.

The cuts are part of an unprecedented dismantling of government support for education - including abolition of the department of education and dozens of its programmes - proposed by the Republicans who control Congress as a way of cutting the budget deficit by the year 2002.

One of the most controversial proposals is to end the government subsidy on student loans while borrowers are in college.

Senate Republican proposals are less swingeing, but they would eliminate two of the three student aid programmes based on need.

The proposals "constitute a frontal assault on the foundations of federal student aid programmes that have served the nation well for 30 years", said Robert Atwell, president of the American Council on Education, the umbrella group for colleges and universities. "Tens of millions of Americans - including many members of Congress - have benefited from these programmes in the past. Millions of current students and their families rely on them to help fulfil the dream of a college education."

Cuts proposed by the House of Representatives would lop $24.2 billion off the budget over seven years; the Senate's cuts would amount to $18.1 billion over the same period. Democrats have wasted no time in labelling the proposed reductions "mean-spirited". Vice president Al Gore said they were "dead flat wrong".

Education secretary Richard Riley said: "I'm disappointed to see what has been strong, bipartisan support for education in this country may be collapsing."

Republicans in both houses of Congress are proposing to cut the budget of the National Institutes of Health, the largest federal sponsor of research at universities. They also want to eliminate the department of energy, which funnels billions into science research, and funds the entire system of national laboratories, support for high-energy physics, nuclear fusion research and a host of other initiatives, including the human genome project.

It was not clear last week what house Republicans envisaged happening to all this research. There was talk of a new "department of science". The house Republicans are proposing to shrink NASA's funding by $2 billion, assuming the agency would save about $1.5 billion by privatising the space shuttle and that $2.7 billion would be saved by scuttling the "Mission to Planet Earth", the satellite programme for studying global climate change.

Under the house plan, all federal funding for Howard University, the premier black university in Washington, would cease.

The proposals of both houses will eventually be merged into a plan to form the basis for federal spending. Committees which appropriate money will be able to change the details, but only in spending targets.

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