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CONGRESS PASSES COMPETING BUDGET RESOLUTIONS AND HEADS TO CONFERENCE: Senate Increases Education $8.2 Billion

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the congressional budget resolution that included an $8.2 billion increase for education over the President’s budget request. Two weeks ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a budget resolution that cut education 3 percent below the President’s budget. The President has basically requested a freeze in education spending for fiscal year 2004.

The House budget resolution not only cuts education spending over last year, it also assumes a $9.7 billion education cut over 10 years on the mandatory side of the budget. If adopted, substantial cuts to programs like reduced price and free school lunches for poor students and student loans would result.

The original Senate budget resolution, as reported by the Senate Budget Committee and drafted by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles (R-OK), provided only a $900 million increase in education funding. During floor debate, however, the Senate adopted six amendments that increase funding for education programs.

One such amendment, offered by Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-NH), added $2 billion in block grant funding for either No Child Left Behind (NCLB) programs, special education, or vocational education. The increase is offset by unspecified cuts to other programs. Another Gregg amendment added $3.3 billion for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Actover the next two years. Cuts in unspecified discretionary spending will also be used to offset the cost of that amendment.

Other successful amendments include an amendment by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) that added an additional $2 billion for NCLB programs and an amendment by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) that added $275 million for education programs by closing tax loopholes in offshore accounts. A second Kennedy amendment added $1.8 billion for the Pell Grant program (college grants for low-income students), an amount that would increase the annual maximum grant award to $4,500. Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-OK) amendment added $112 million for the Impact Aid program. A number of “Sense of the Senate” amendments, including one supporting higher education and the after school program, also passed by voice vote, but did not add any additional funding.

In addition to the education amendments, one of the most noteworthy changes to the Senate budget resolution cut the President’s $726 billion tax package roughly in half, to $350 billion. The amendment, offered by Sen. John Breaux (D-LA), passed 51 to 48. The final Senate vote on the entire resolution was 56 to 44, on a vote that mostly followed party lines. Only six Democrats voted for the measure and only one Republican voted against.

The differing versions of the budget resolution will now go to a Senate-House conference committee, which will likely begin meeting during the week of March 31. While many observers will be focusing on the size of the tax cut, most people in the education community will be pushing Congress to accept the Senate version and its increase of approximately $8.2 billion for education programs.

Did You Know?

The budget resolution is a non-binding spending blueprint for Congress. It sets limits on the spending and tax legislation Congress will consider for the rest of the year, but is a non-binding document that is not signed by the President. Only the total amount of discretionary spending in the final budget resolution, not the specific program totals, is binding on the Appropriations Committees. In testimony before the House Labor, HHS, Education Appropriations Subcommittee, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige told subcommittee members that he and President Bush are willing to rework the President’s education budget request, but would not revise the total amount requested.

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