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CONGRESS CONTINUES TO ADD BILLIONS OF DOLLARS TO LAST YEAR’S BUDGET: Stage Set for Appropriations Fight this Year

Last week, Congress passed the fiscal 2002 supplemental spending bill, ending a tumultuous several weeks of spending standoffs between Congress and President Bush that many observers believe will pale in comparison to the upcoming showdown during the next appropriations debate.

On July 11, appropriators in both chambers agreed to spend an additional $30.4 billion and thought the White House would go along. Later that night, however, White House budget director Mitchell E. Daniels came to the Capitol and informed appropriators that the President would not sign a bill greater than his initial $28.8 billion request. In response, congressional appropriators presented a $29.6 billion offer only to be rebuffed again. It was not until July 18 that House and Senate conferees finally settled on a $28.9 billion measure that President Bush is expected to sign.

The supplemental spending bill includes $14.4 billion for defense, $6.7 billion for homeland security, $5.5 billion for New York for expenses related to the Sept. 11 attacks, and $1 billion for the Pell Grant program for college students.

The back-and-forth posturing between Congress and the President is expected to play out again as Congress sends fiscal 2003 spending bills to the White House for signature. The process is especially complicated because the Senate is operating under a spending ceiling that is $9 billion higher than the House ceiling; House appropriators are squeezing every penny to come in below the President’s $759 billion budget while the Senate’s $768 billion ceiling allows more spending for politically popular programs. If the 2002 supplemental spending bill is any indication, the higher spending totals in the Senate will need to be brought closer to the President’s budget in order to gain Presidential approval.

The battle over how much Congress is willing to invest in education is expected to be one of the most politically charged in the upcoming debates. Many Democrats believe that the $4.2 billion increase in the Senate bill is inadequate to meet the mandates in the newly enacted No Child Left Behind Act and will seek to add more funding when the bill comes to the Senate floor. Meanwhile, the House leadership will try to hold education as close to the President’s request as possible-$1.4 billion below the current Senate bill. With educational services for millions of children at stake, educators across the country are watching these debates carefully.

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No Child Left Behind

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