- The Washington Times - Friday, September 13, 2002

House Republican leaders yesterday pulled from the floor a bill designed to give poor families a tax deduction to help with education expenses, including private-school tuition, because they feared it would not pass.

"They decided they had the votes then they recounted and decided they didn't have it," said bill opponent Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat and ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee.

Republicans said it was simply a matter of absenteeism, as 12 Republicans were not present.

"We didn't want to take a chance," said Stuart Roy, spokesman for House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. "We probably would have passed it anyway, but when we put a bill up, we don't want to go on probably."

Mr. Roy said Republicans would bring up the bill again, but it was not clear when.

"When the full House is here, we'll bring it up and pass it," he said.

With elections approaching, Mr. Rangel said, the bill was an attempt by Republican leaders "to give political cover to their members on the education issue."

The bill would provide tax deductions of up to $3,000 for educational expenses, including tuition for private or religious schools, tutoring, supplies, uniforms, transportation and computer equipment, for qualified parents of students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The deduction would be available to individuals with adjusted gross incomes of $20,000 or less, or couples who make $40,000 or less.

"Quality education should be available and affordable for all parents," said Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, New York Republican. He said as children return to school, "there is no better time" to pass a bill helping parents "offset the cost of education."

But Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat, said it was part of "continuing wave of election-year gimmicks" and called it a "purely partisan bill" that was "designed to make a political point, and not become law."

Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat, said the bill would provide help only "to a few families in America who choose to send their children to private school," and called it "little more than a private-school voucher bill."

Republicans said 18 million families would be eligible and the vast majority of them would use the money to pay for public-school expenses. They also said poorer families should have the same choices in education that more wealthy families have.

"We're specifically trying to help working families," said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican.

"In fact, the poor would benefit," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican.

The rule allowing the bill to come to the floor passed narrowly, in a 208-201 vote, with two Republicans voting against it Rep. Constance A. Morella of Maryland and Rep. Michael N. Castle of Delaware.

Mr. Castle said the House should first pass the appropriations bill that funds the Education Department before spending more money on an education tax-deduction bill, which is estimated to cost about $5 billion through 2005.

He said about a dozen or more Republicans have concerns with the bill as well.

House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Democrats were in a strong position yesterday to defeat the bill or to pass a procedural motion that in effect would replace the bill with an alternative Democratic proposal that would provide $25 billion for school construction and repair.

"We thought we had a good number of Republican votes," Ms. Pelosi said. "Whether we do or not, it was in doubt as far as Republicans were concerned and they pulled the bill."

Democrats also said the bill was too broad and invited the inclusion of such things as televisions as educational expenses.

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