Congressional Republicans are preparing to send President Clinton an education package built around tax breaks for school expenses, including tuition at private and religious schools.
Clinton already has promised to veto it. That would allow GOP lawmakers this midterm election year to portray Clinton as opposed to reform and Democrats beholden to money from teachers' unions."It's now up to President Clinton to stand up for our students instead of left-wing labor bosses at the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers," Republican Party chairman Jim Nicholson said Thursday, after the House passed the tax and education measure.
The 225-197 vote was mostly along party lines (Utah's three Republican House members voted for the bill). The margin was narrow enough to indicate a veto would stand. The Senate is expected to pass the bill next week.
Democrats are stressing new, multibillion-dollar federal programs to build schools, hire teachers and expand programs to care for children after school. They mocked Republicans for voting to abolish the tax code, then voting to create what they say is another tax loophole for the wealthy.
"Our Republican friends are saying that this code is so complicated, so unfair that it ought to be pulled up by its roots," said New York Rep. Charles Rangel, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Com-mittee. "But if the code is so complicated, why would the Republicans add this fertilizer to the roots that they want to pull up?"
The bill would expand tax-free savings accounts that Congress created last year - with Clinton's blessing - to provide for college expenses.
Families, employers and others could contribute up to $2,000 a year to the accounts on a child's behalf - up from $500 in the original bill. Interest buildup and withdrawals would be tax-free, and the money could be used for expenses beginning with kindergarten.
Backers stress that most people would use the savings to help with ordinary costs of attending public schools, such as books, supplies, tutors, computers and transportation, and the special needs of disabled children.
But opponents say most of the dollar benefits would go to more affluent parents sending their children to private schools.