- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

The Senate yesterday approved the D.C. budget bill, but without any mention of funding for school vouchers, which left lawmakers expecting to find the initiative attached to a massive omnibus spending package.

Sen. Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican and chairman of the D.C. appropriations subcommittee, said last week that vouchers would be attached to the omnibus bill, and the Senate’s actions yesterday all but confirmed that.

“The [D.C.] budget bill is in conference now and we will know more when it comes out, but vouchers will be in the omnibus bill,” said a spokeswoman for the subcommittee.

But Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, said last week that the Republican leadership had not decided whether to add vouchers to the massive spending package.

Either way, some Senate Democrats were annoyed.

“Regrettably, despite the Senate’s opposition and the opposition of the majority of elected officials in the District of Columbia, we know that the Republicans also plan to slip this same proposal into the omnibus spending bill,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.

Funding school vouchers with federal taxpayer dollars has been one of the most contentious issues in Congress this year. The D.C. spending bill — which included $13 million in vouchers to send students from failing city schools to private institutions — was approved in the House by one vote in September.

Congress sometimes bundles authorization bills into an omnibus package to facilitate approval. If Republicans insert the voucher initiative into an omnibus spending package, it would give Democrats few options to oppose the measure.

The Senate passed the budget by voice vote, something it could not have accomplished if vouchers had been included.

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat and ranking member of the D.C. subcommittee, criticized the move on the floor. Mrs. Landrieu, who said she is not opposed to vouchers as a test program, said the language in the bill would take public school money.

“That issue, unfortunately, because of the nature of the process, is going to be put into the omnibus appropriations bill, and I just want to go on record as strongly objecting to it,” Mrs. Landrieu said.

Mrs. Landrieu said she did not expect vouchers alone to incite a filibuster against the omnibus package.

House Republicans on the D.C. appropriations subcommittee want vouchers passed in whatever form it takes coming back from the Senate, a subcommittee spokesman said.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who has mounted strong opposition in the House against vouchers, was claiming victory after the Senate’s vote yesterday.

“To pass the D.C. appropriation today on the Senate floor, Republicans had to take vouchers out of the appropriation because a majority of senators still oppose giving federal money to private school vouchers in the District or anywhere else,” Mrs. Norton said.


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