Child-Care Bill Picks Up Support
Though sticking points remain over funding, coming elections may lead to compromise. TIP OF SOCIAL-ISSUE `ICEBERG'
UNDER a glistening Paul Revere crystal chandelier in a little-known Capitol Hill room, Reps. Olympia Snowe and Pat Schroeder politely fire the opening salvo in this year's child-care battle. ``Child care is on the top of our agenda,'' says Representative Snowe, a Maine Republican.Skip to next paragraph
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``We're so far behind every country'' in the industrialized world on child care and other family issues, laments Representative Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat. Women in and out of Congress ``are growing impatient.''
Child care is the visible tip of the social-issues iceberg now floating around Capitol Hill. Just below the surface are family leave, still-rising health-care costs, medical insurance for an estimated 37 million uninsured, long-term health care, education, crack babies, age discrimination in employment, pension-fund oversight, and improvements in the supplemental Social Security income fund.
All these issues will be discussed - health issues in exhausting detail. But Congress is unlikely to approve significant legislation on most of them this year except for family leave, and even that is problematic.
Only child care has the political buoyancy to thrust its way upward onto Congress's legislative calendar for the early part of this year. The House of Representatives ``will pass a child-care bill by the end of March,'' insists House Speaker Thomas Foley (D) of Washington.
The Senate, which approved a child-care proposal last year, ``will revisit'' the issue in 1990, says Senate minority whip Alan Simpson (R) of Wyoming. ``That must be done.''
On and off Capitol Hill some politically savvy observers think Congress this year will finally approve a child-care bill that President Bush will sign into law.
A principal reason: Politics.
Child care is ``an extremely popular issue,'' says John Chubb of the Brookings Institution. Both Republicans and Democrats ``would like to go into the election [this fall] being able to trumpet their efforts on this issue.''
Last year House members could not decide which of two disparate child-care proposals to support, so they approved both, and left the final choice to a Senate-House conference committee.
No agreement in sight
One proposal would provide grants to states as entitlements that do not require annual congressional approval. This proposal is favored by Rep. Thomas Downey (D) of New York, whose Ways and Means subcommittee on human resources would have jurisdiction of this bill.
The other would provide more money subject to annual appropriations. This plan is supported by retiring Rep. Augustus Hawkins (D) of California, whose Education and Labor Committee would have charge of this bill.
This year the two sides have to start all over again in the House and pass another proposal, but no agreement is in sight. ``A compromise will have to emerge, so someone will have to yield,'' says a congressional source. ``But at this point no one's yielded yet.''
``We have a very sharp division between some members of the Education and Labor Committee and members of the Ways and Means Committee,'' says Speaker Foley. If he can't resolve it amicably, ``there may be some need to just settle it ... on the floor,'' he says.