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HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE SHARPENS BUDGET KNIFE: Subcommittee’s Bill Would Cut Education Programs by $1.1 Billion

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“This legislation reflects our strong commitment to reduce over-regulation and unnecessary, ineffective spending that feeds the nation’s deficits and hampers economic growth.”

Funding for the U.S. Department of Education would be cut by $1.1 billion below last year’s level based on the spending bill that passed the House Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education Appropriations Subcommittee on July 18. It is unknown when the full House Appropriations Committee will consider the bill, known as the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill.

“This legislation reflects our strong commitment to reduce over-regulation and unnecessary, ineffective spending that feeds the nation’s deficits and hampers economic growth,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY). “A careful look was given to all programs and agencies in the bill, with the budget knife aimed at excess spending and underperforming programs, but also with the goal of making wise investments in programs that help the American people the most.”

The bill would provide $160 million for a comprehensive literacy program serving students from birth through grade twelve. It directs 15 percent of the funds to be used to serve children from birth through age five; 40 percent to serve students in kindergarten through grade five; and 40 percent to serve students in middle and high school, including an equitable distribution of funds between middle and high schools.

Funding for Title I and career and technical education state grants would be frozen at $14.5 billion and $1.1 billion, respectively, while special education would receive a $500 million increase under the bill. On the whole, however, the bill would make a significant cut to K–12 education programs, including eliminations in funding for the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, the High School Graduation Initiative, and mathematics and science partnerships. It would also eliminate funding for two of President Obama’s signature competitive grants programs—Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation (i3).

“We object to the net reduction of $1.2 billion for elementary and secondary education programs, despite an increase to the special education account, which we always welcome,” said U.S. Representative Norm Dicks (D-WA), top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. “The biggest cut would come to programs that target our neediest students and are designed to bring major reforms and efficiencies to America’s public schools. While the Republican leadership is quick to criticize the state of our public schools, it is at the same time abandoning the tools and resources to help states and local school districts to make the system better.”
In total, the House subcommittee’s version of the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill contains $150 billion in discretionary funding for the U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, compared to $158.8 billion in the version that passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 14.

The large disparity in the funding levels between the two bills is due to what Politico calls an “ongoing impasse” between House Republicans and Senate Democrats over how much the federal government should spend this year. On one hand, the House adopted a congressional budget resolution that capped discretionary spending in Fiscal Year 2013 at $1.028 trillion, while the Senate chose to stick to the $1.047 trillion amount set by last summer’s Budget Control Act, which raised the debt ceiling. As the appropriations process got underway in mid-April, the different spending priorities became even clearer as the House allocated $8 billion more for defense spending than the Senate, while the Senate chose to provide $8 billion more in funding for labor, health, and education programs than the House.

Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) signaled that his chamber may not clear any spending bills this year because of the large difference between House and Senate spending levels.

“Until the Republicans get real, we can’t [pass appropriations bills] because they have refused to adhere to the law that guides this country,” Reid was quoted as saying in Politico. “We passed last August legislation that is now a law that set forth the spending for this country during the next fiscal year. They refuse to adhere to that, so that makes it hard to do these appropriations bills.”

In a July 11 statement, Rogers called Reid’s comments “extremely disappointing” and said that the twelve annual appropriations bills “cannot be swept under the rug and ignored until a more convenient political time.” Unless the bills are dealt with in a “judicious and responsible manner,” Rogers said the nation could once again “face the economic danger and instability of threats of a government shutdown.”

In more recent days, signs are emerging that Senate Democratic and Republican leaders believe they can come to an agreement on a stopgap spending measure, formally called a continuing resolution (CR), which would provide temporary funding and avoid a government shutdown when the current fiscal year ends on September 30.

Yet to be determined is the amount that the CR would contain or how long it would last, but indications are that the bill could last beyond Election Day and could extend until the end of December. House Republicans have said that they could vote for a CR containing the Senate’s $1.047 trillion funding level—rather than the House’s $1.028 trillion—if the CR extends into the early months of the 113th Congress, whose composition will be determined by this year’s congressional elections in November. Republicans prefer this approach because they believe that their party will make gains on Election Day, making it easier to push for deeper cuts in spending when this newly constructed Congress begins in January 2013.

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