Last week, the House and Senate Budget Committees passed two separate versions of a fiscal year (FY) 2009 Congressional budget resolution. The two resolutions differed slightly in the total amounts of discretionary funding that they would permit in FY 2009 and in the amounts that they would provide for the U.S. Department of Education, although both plans would reject President Bush’s proposed cuts for education programs.
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.
Under the resolution that the Senate Budget Committee passed on March 6, a group of programs that includes education and job training would receive an $8.8 billion increase over President Bush’s budget request. It would increase funding for the U.S. Department of Education by $5.4 billion more than the president’s budget. Overall, the Senate blueprint would provide $18 billion more in total discretionary spending than the amount that the president requested in his FY 2009 budget.
“This budget will strengthen the economy, create jobs, and make America safer,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-SD). “It will allow for additional stimulus for the economy to respond to the current economic downturn. It provides tax relief for the middle class. It makes needed investments in energy, education, infrastructure, and health care. It supports our troops, cares for our veterans, and protects the homeland.”
The version passed by the House Budget Committee would provide a $7.1 billion increase for education, job training, and other programs. (Exactly how much of an increase the U.S. Department of Education would receive was unavailable at press time). The House version would also allow for $22 billion more in discretionary spending that the president’s budget, an amount $4 billion higher than the Senate’s plan.
If kept in their current forms, both the House and Senate plans would likely set up a showdown with President Bush similar to last year when Congress proposed to spend approximately $23 billion more in discretionary spending than the president proposed in his budget.
Both budget plans are scheduled to receive consideration on the floor of their respective chambers the week of March 10. The plans will certainly come under fire from Republicans, who have said that the Democrats’ budget plan would raise taxes to fund unnecessary spending increases.
“Full of gimmicks, tax hikes, wasteful spending increases, and lacking any reforms to entitlement programs or the taxpayer-funded earmark system, this Democratic budget is not even remotely fiscally responsible,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH). “As this measure moves through the legislative process, I welcome like-minded Democrats to join with Republicans to craft a blueprint that keeps our nation on track toward balancing the federal budget without raising taxes.”
The like-minded Democrats that Boehner alludes to could include the Blue Dogs, a group of more than forty-five economically conservative Democrats who generally favor a balanced federal budget and accountability for taxpayer dollars. While there are enough House Democrats to pass the Congressional budget resolution without any Republican support, the support of the Blue Dogs is a necessary component of that strategy.