Opponents of President Carter's proposed department of education yesterday engaged in a day-long stall on the House floor, during which they offered one controversial amendment after another in hopes of killing the bill.
The bill, a centerpiece of Carter's government reorganization efforts, would create a separate education department with a budget of $14.5 billion a year and 24,000 employes. It passed the senate, 72 to 21, April 30.
Yesterday, Rep. Robert S. Walker (R-Pa.) pinned onto the bill, on a 277-to-126 vote, language barring the new department from enforcing in schools any "ratio, quota or other numerical requirement" relating to race, creed, national origin or sex.
Walker denied that this could cripple affirmative-action civil rights programs, as has been charged in the past, when similar language was offered to other bills. But Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.) called the denial "hypocritical," which led to a dispute over the use of such charges, and the Gonzalez word was finally stricken from the record.
Rep. John M. Ashbrook (R-Ohio) then sought to add an antiabortion amendment, but this was ruled out of order.
Rep. John N. Erlenborn (Ri-Ill.) moved to block transfer of Defense Department overseas schools to the new department, but lost, 230 to 178.
Meanwhile, Erlenborn, Walker and other opponents of the bill repeatedly demanded quorum calls or roll calls in what members and lobbyists said was an effort to stall a final vote on the bill and perhaps cause its defeat through delay.
Rep. Frederick W. Richmond (D-N.Y.), summing up what has transpired in two days of debate, said addition of the Walker amendment, plus earlier amendments favoring voluntary school prayer and forbidding the department from requiring busing to foster desegregation, had made the bill unacceptable to many liberals.
"Even if you were for it before, the abortion, busing and affirmative action amendments are enough reason to vote against it now," Richmond told reporters and lobbyists gathered on the Capitol steps just off the House chamber during a quorum call.
However, administration legislative aides and lobbyists for the National Education Association and other backers of the proposed department said they would seek to strike the controversial amendments in conference with the Senate, whose bill doesn't contain them.
President Carter claims that creation of a new department, uniting programs from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and several others into a separate unit would give education higher visibility and prestige. Carter also contends that a separate department, not buried under layers of officialdom in HEW, would be more efficient and reach decisions faster.
The NEA, the nation's largest education group, backs the bill, as does the National School Boards Association, National Urban League (Provided controversial rights amendments are dropped), and the United Auto Workers union.
However, the ALF-CIO claims that the creation of a separate department would break up the entrenched lobbying strength of the labor-education-civil rights coalition. Some black organizations say they fear that programs for minority children would be submerged by professional educators traditionally lukewarm to special programs.
Conservatives like Erlenborn claim that the new department would have inordinate influence over educational policy and could control educational policy at the local level, although local control of policy has been an article of faith in American education.
Together with the American Federation of Teachers, which fears its rival, the NEA, would get control of the new department, they formed a lobbying coalition to try to kill the bill.