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CONGRESS MOVES FORWARD WITH BUDGET PLAN FOR FY 2008: House and Senate Spending Blueprints Include Significant Increases for Education Programs

Rating
“I can’t lose a single vote.”

Federal spending on education could increase significantly based on the spending blueprints that emerged from the House and Senate over the past two weeks. Although there were slight differences between them, both the House and Senate versions of the fiscal year (FY) 2008 congressional budget resolution would provide increases for the U.S. Department of Education. The next step in the annual budget process is a House-Senate conference in which representatives from both chambers will attempt to iron out their differences. Should a compromise come easily, the final budget plan could be up for a final vote as soon as the week of April 16. Agreeing to a joint budget plan would be a significant achievement; Congress was unable to do so in 2006.

Although it is a nonbinding spending blueprint that is not signed by the president, the congressional budget resolution sets limits on the spending and tax legislation that Congress will consider for the rest of the year. Only the total amount of discretionary spending in the final budget resolution is binding on the appropriations committees. However, the congressional budget resolution can serve as guidance to the chairmen of the appropriations committees on how to divide resources among various federal departments and agencies, and it often sets the stage for the annual appropriations bills.

In the Senate version, which passed by a vote of 52–47 on March 23, the U.S. Department of Education would receive an increase of $6.1 billion over the president’s budget request for FY 2008. Passing the resolution on the Senate floor was especially noteworthy considering the narrow Democratic majority—there are fifty-one Democrats (including two Independents who caucus with the Democrats) and forty-nine Republicans, but Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) continues to recover from the brain hemorrhage he suffered in December and has yet to cast a vote in 2007. In the days leading up to the vote, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) knew that he would have to draft a budget resolution that would satisfy both fiscal conservative and liberal wings of the Democratic Party. “I can’t lose a single vote,” he said in the days leading up to the vote.

In the end, Conrad not only received the support of all forty-eight Democrats who were present and of the two Independents, Senators Bernie Sanders (VT) and Joe Lieberman (CT); his bill also got the votes of two Republicans, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

“[There is] a substantial commitment to education in this budget, which I believe is the top domestic priority beyond defending our country and defending our borders,” Conrad said. “So I am delighted at the result here today. And I think this is a budget that reflects the priorities of the American people. I am proud of this budget.”

House Democrats’ Unity Leads to Passage of the Budget Resolution

Last year, the House of Representatives did not pass its version of the congressional budget resolution until May 18. The delay was attributable not to Democratic interference, but instead to considerable infighting between the conservative and moderate factions of the Republican Party. Whereas conservative Republicans sought to limit spending on discretionary programs such as education and health care, moderate Republicans held out for greater spending for these and other domestic priorities.

This year, in an effort to avoid the intraparty disputes that delayed last year’s congressional budget resolution, House Budget Chairman John Spratt (D-SC) reached out to the various factions within the Democratic Party, including the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats.

In a statement prior to the House vote, Representative Mike Ross (D-AR), a cochairman for Communications for the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, expressed satisfaction with the budget resolution. “I applaud Chairman Spratt for his commitment to two principles we as Blue Dogs believe are essential if a government is to be accountable to its people—a strong national defense and fiscal responsibility.”

Because of Chairman Spratt’s inclusionary tactics, House Democrats were able to hold onto enough votes from their caucus and pass the budget resolution by a 216–210 margin on March 29. Twelve Democrats voted against the measure, but most waited until passage was assured before voting. As passed by the House, the budget resolution would provide nearly $8 billion more than President Bush’s budget request for education, job training, and social services.

“This is a balanced budget with balanced priorities,” Spratt said. “It shows that Democrats are fiscally responsible and can budget, and that we are charting a new course for America.” In discussing increased spending for education, health care for veterans, and health insurance for children, Spratt said that these increases “help sustain good programs that work for millions of Americans and good programs that Democrats believe in.”

For their part, Republicans were also unified, but in their case, against the budget resolution, which they said would raise taxes and lead to higher spending. “The best way to balance the budget is to control spending, not raise taxes,” said Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), the top Republican on the House Budget Committee. “We can and should balance the budget without raising taxes. Regrettably, the Democrats’ budget plan amounts to the largest tax hike in American history, and it still doesn’t get to the heart of the problem—the fact that [the] government is spending taxpayer dollars at an unsustainable rate. In fact, this budget proposal piles on a lot more new spending and doesn’t even attempt meaningful entitlement reforms.”

 

U.S. Department of Education Announces Funding Levels for FY 2007

 

As 2006 came to a close, Congress had only passed two of the eleven Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 appropriations bills. At that point, the Republican leadership passed a temporary funding resolution that postponed final decisions on education spending until February 2007. On February 14—over four months after the first day of the fiscal year— Congress passed and President Bush signed a resolution that allocated funds to the U.S. Department of Education. Because of the delay, the department was unable to provide final funding levels for individual programs until late last month.

According to the FY 2007 operating plan that the department released on March 20, several programs will receive an increase in funding over FY 2006. Among them, Title I will receive a $130 million increase, spending on special education will increase by $200 million, and funding for the Striving Readers program will increase by about $2 million. Also, the maximum Pell grant award will increase from $4,050 to $4,310, the first such increase in four years.

In addition, the Title I School Improvement Fund, which is funded for the first time, will receive $125 million that will be targeted to the 6,700 schools that failed to meet No Child Left Behind requirements in the 2005–2006 school year. Schools will use these funds to implement improvement activities, such as teacher training, tutoring programs, and curriculum upgrades.

A chart of selected education programs and their funding levels for FY 2007 is available athttps://all4ed.org/federal_policy/budget_FY2008. The chart also includes the amounts that programs would receive under the budget proposal that President Bush submitted on February 5.

 

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