On March 29, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Budget Committee approved a budget resolution that would cap overall discretionary spending at $873 billion, the level requested by President Bush in his budget recommendations earlier this year. The committee, which is dominated by conservatives, approved the budget plan by a party-line vote of 22-17.
In his opening statement, House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-IA) talked at length about his priorities for fiscal year 2007. Among them, he named “strength” (which he associated with the nation’s defense, homeland security, economy, and job market), “spending control,” “further restraining non-security discretionary spending,” and “reform” (which would address how federal-government dollars are actually spent).
Given that description of priorities, it is not surprising to learn that the plan the House Budget Committee adopted includes a 7% increase in the core defense budget (which does not include Iraq war costs), but cuts domestic programs such as education, health research, and agriculture. Specifically, the budget plan would cut federal spending on education by more than $5 billion-more than double the cut requested by the president’s budget-for fiscal year 2007.
“Although many seem to regularly forget, the federal government simply doesn’t have an infinite supply of money nor should it,” Nussle said. “So when we decide to increase spending in an area we’ve determined a top priority, we’ve got to then reduce spending somewhere else. That’s what budgeting is all about.”
Nussle’s plan also includes $226 billion in additional tax cuts over 5 years. Most of this total would go toward extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, most of which are set to expire in 2010.
In his opening statement, Representative John Spratt Jr. (D-SC), the committee’s top Democrat, noted that the budget resolution, if carried out, would add more to the deficit than if Congress did nothing. He said that proposed cuts to domestic programs would “barely make a dent in the budget,” but would hurt the people who benefit from the programs. Referring to education programs as a “key example,” Spratt said, “Surely this is not the time in our country’s history to skimp on the education of our children … they’ve never needed a good education more than now, when we’re thrusting our whole workforce into the global economy.”
By a party-line vote of 22-14, the committee rejected an amendment by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) that would have provided an additional $7 billion for the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services. The amendment was identical to the one offered by Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) that was adopted earlier this month on the Senate floor by a vote of 73-27.
Republican Moderates to Push for Additional Spending During House Debate
The full membership of the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to debate the budget resolution the week of April 3. However, the Republican leadership has decided not to allow individual amendments to the resolution and will only permit complete substitute budget resolution proposals.
On March 28, Representative Mike Castle (R-DE) held a standing-room-only rally with health and education advocates to demand additional funding for domestic discretionary programs in the House budget resolution. Castle planned to attempt to amend the budget resolution on the House floor to include the $7 billion the Senate added when it passed the Specter/Harkin amendment. Unless the budget resolution contains the additional spending, Castle has publicly announced that he will vote against it and encourage other moderates to do the same.
“Over the past several years I have become increasingly concerned about the choices we are making,” Castle said. “Instead of closing tax loopholes and addressing corporate welfare, we too often look to eliminate the programs that are utilized by the neediest among us. We continue to fund the war with emergency spending and turn a blind eye to the waste in the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. We continue to show restraint in only 16% of the federal budget, and only in domestic programs.”
In addition to Castle’s efforts, 23 moderates signed a letter authored by Representatives Fred Upton (R-MI) and Nancy Johnson (R-CT) 2 weeks ago that urged a 2% increase in domestic discretionary programs and warned that they “would have strong reservations voting for any budget that would result in real cuts in a number of programs.”
The potential showdown between Republican conservatives eager to limit spending and moderates who want additional funding for education and other domestic priorities could complicate the floor debate on the budget resolution. With no House Democrats expected to support the resolution, Republican unity is especially important to the resolution’s passage.