Little notice in the omnibus budget bills on Capitol Hill have been the surviving shreds of President Regan's blueprint for a large-scale transfer of control over federal dollars from Washington to state and local governments.
The federal government's authority to tell school boards how they spend federal money for instruction and other school activities has been curbed. Laws earmarking funds for such specific programs as metric education, art education, women's studies, libraries and counseling have been repealed, and the programs have been rolled into block grants that give local officials greater discretion over spending.
State health departments will have somewhat greater flexibility over federal aid, which now comes to them from more than two dozen federal appropriations administered by more than two dozen federal agencies and is limited to such precisely defined efforts as combating problems of lead-based paint poisoning, sudden infant death syndrome and hemophilia.
For the most part, however, Congress was unwilling to yield all controls to statehouses, school boards and city halls, and the big, multibillion-dollar federal programs like education aid for the disadvantaged and handicapped were left substantially intact. Even when changes were made, some strings were retained. In the Senate bill, for example, health departments desiring to shut down clinics during the next couple of years may do so only with the express permission of Washington.
Although Reagan had linked greater local control with budget proposals, saying that cities and states would be better able to absorb cuts if they had more flexibility, his own lobbyists in some instances bartered away elments of his plan in the frenzy to line up votes for the spending reductions.
The White House calculated last week that what survived in some version in both House and Senate bills was about a third of the president's plan for consolidating 83 separate federally administered programs into six block grants controlled by the states.
"You've got a lot of built-in pressures -- lobbying groups as well as those people who feel honestly that it's better to have federal controls," said Rich Williamson, senior White House liaison to state and local governments. He claimed victory of sorts in reversing a thrend that has existed since the beginning of the Great Society; that of Congress creating more and more federal categorical programs, of which there are now about 500.
"At the very best, the boat stopped and turned a little bit," Williamson said. "It's a beginning."
"I don't think the changes are going to be that drastic," said Joe McLaughlin, spokesman for the National Govenors Association. "We got far less than what we wanted but probably far more than what most people thought we'd get."
There was still confusion throughout Washington last week as administration officials, lobbyists and staffers combed through the budget bills to see what, precisely, Congress had wrought.
"Our feeling is that it's going to be a long time before we fully understand it -- especially the House bill because it was so poorly drafted," McLaughlin said.
An obscure amendment tacked onto the budget bill in the House, for example, has lobbyists for the governors and state legistators concerned that it might be difficult to terminate any programs. The amendment requires states to continue funding for all programs "servicing demonstrated needs" and to provide proof of ineffectiveness for those that state and local officials decide to terminate.
There are still vast differences in both the substance and the timing of changes in the House and Senate bills. The Senate, for example, consolidated 25 health programs into three block grants. But the House wrapped only 12 health programs into three somewhat different block grants and kept the other 13 as separate national programs, including programs to control veneral disease and tuberculosis.
Although House and Senate education proposals are similar, the changes would take effect in the Senate's version by the time schools reopens in the fall, while the House version calls for the changes to be delayed until the following year.
The administration allowed its proposal for an energy block grant to be pitched overboard in the House to get support from Northeast Republicans for budget cuts. But the governors' lobbyists are mystified by what is left of that plan in the Senate, where lawmakers assembled $336 million to consolidate state energy conservation and weatherization programs but did not pass legislation creating a block grant.
The changes and vague language in the bills also caused concern among social advocacy and lobbying groups that had opposed the transfer of control from Washingtion.
Lobbyists for the National Education Association, which had been among those successfully advocating a weakening of Reagan's education block grant proposal, were still worried that language in the small dollar programs that were consolidated repeatedly directed that consideration be given to private schools when the funds were divided up locally.
The Children's Defense Fund, a child advocacy lobbying organization, which did an extensive analysis of the bills, expressed concern about the elimination of explicit requirements for targeting federal education aid for the disadvantaged to those demonstrating were added, recalled Marian Wright Edelman, the head of the fund, some school boards had used the money for swimming pools and audiovisual equipment instead of programs sharply focused on raising the achievement of poor students.
The consolidation proposals had been described by Reagan as only an intermediate step in what he has described as his "dream" of ultimately turning over to state and local governments the power to control and the fund-raising authority for most social programs.
Williamson said last week that the effort to limit the federal government's role continues and is not limited to the creation of block grants. The effort, he said, involves regulatory changes, the elimination of operating subsidies for mass transit and a vast arrary of other initiatives.
But Congress' action so far would indicate that the Hill is far more resistant to the concept than it has been to budget cuts. Although governors and state legislators argue that they have modernized their operations over the last couple of decades and the perception that they are insensitive to cities and the poor no longer applies, the indications were that most on the Hill were not persuaded.
There is also broad disagreement on what programs are of overriding national purpose. In defending his health subcommittee's decision to keep tuberculosis and venereal disease control programs out of block grants controlled by the states, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) said, "Epidemics do not stop at state lines."
But even the govenors and the White House disagree over how power should be divided when it comes to Medicaid and welfare. The governors argue that these are properly national responsibilities. The White House disagrees.
Clearly, there is also an unwillingness on Congress' part to yield power. Even conservatives committed to the idea of shipping the dollars back to the states could not resist adding some strings. In both House and Senate budget versions, school boards are prohibited from using federal dollars to buy buses used in desegregation plans. The Senate also seeks to cut off housing aid to cities that have rent control laws.