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CONGRESS SHIFTS INTO BUDGET MODE: Senate Passes Congressional Budget Plan, House Expected to Act This Week

Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate passed its version of a fiscal 2005 budget plan after several days of debate and votes on scores of amendments. It includes $81.1 billion in budget authority for “education, training, employment and social services, a $3.1 billion (3.9 percent) increase over last year’s level. During floor debate, the Senate rejected amendments that would have increased the investment in education programs. It did, however, agree to increase the needs-based Pell Grant maximum award from $4,050 to $4,500 in its plan, as well as a provision inserted by Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) for an additional $33 million in Pell Grants for low-income students who complete a rigorous high school course load.

Among the rejected amendments was one offered by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) that would have fully funded the No Child Left Behind Act by adding $8.6 billion. Senator Murray’s amendment was defeated 46-52 on the Senate floor. An amendment by Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) that would have doubled funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers (afterschool program) from $1 billion to $2 billion was defeated 42-54.

The congressional budget resolution is a nonbinding blueprint that outlines Congress’s spending priorities for the year. While it is not signed by the president and does not have the force of law, it is an important determinant to the amount of spending the Appropriations Committee is allowed to allocate for specific departments and programs. Although the Senate rejected the Murray and Dodd amendments to add additional education funds, they accepted amendments that added funding for defense spending ($7 billion), the National Institutes of Health ($2 billion), emergency responders and port security ($1.7 billion), forest restoration ($343 million), veterans’ health research ($101 million), and an expansion of health insurance for military reservists and National Guardsmen ($5.6 billion).

The House version of the budget resolution was reported out of the House Budget Committee on March 17 and is expected to be debated on the House floor during the week of March 22. During committee markup, Representative Darlene Hooley (D-OR) offered an amendment that would have provided an additional $6.2 billion for education that failed by a party-line vote of 16-22. In addition to raising the maximum Pell Grant award to $4,500, the amendment would have added an additional $3 billion for NCLB programs and an additional $1.2 billion for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. While the House budget plan takes a tough line on spending, it did add $150 billion in additional tax cuts over the next five years.

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