On June 24, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the fiscal year 2006 Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education appropriations bill by a vote of 250 to 151. Virtually unchanged from the bill passed by the House Appropriations Committee, the bill would provide $56.69 billion for the U.S. Department of Education for the fiscal year that begins in October 2005. This figure represents a $115 million (0.2 percent) increase for the U.S. Department of Education over this year’s budget allocation-essentially the first freeze on education funding in a decade.
In a statement on the House floor, House Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ralph Regula (R-OH) explained that he would have liked to provide more money for what he dubbed the “People’s Bill,” but was held in check by tight budget constraints.
“We have made a commitment to reduce federal deficits,” he said. “We made some tough decisions. We eliminated four programs and did not initiate eight new programs proposed by the president . . . I want to say to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle and also on our side, it was a great subcommittee. Both Republican and Democrat members worked very well together, and we may have some disagreements on the amounts of money, but I think within the confines of what was available, we pretty much are in agreement with the assignment of priorities that were made.”
Representative David Obey (D-WI), the ranking democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, was deferential to Regula, but lashed out at the Republican leadership for short-changing education, health care, and other pressing needs in the bill. Obey tried in vain to increase funding for these programs, but was unsuccessful in appealing a Rules Committee decision that barred him from introducing an amendment to the spending bill that would have provided an additional $11.8 billion in funding for “high-priority education, health and worker protection programs.” For education programs alone, the amendment would have provided an additional $7.8 billion. The amendment’s spending would have been paid for by reducing the tax cut (from $140,000 to $36,000) for individuals who make more than $1 million a year.
“This bill is the clearest demonstration that I can think of of what happens when Congress puts $140,000 tax cuts for people who make $1 million a year or more ahead of our investment needs in our children, ahead of our investment needs in our health care system, and ahead of supporting programs that will help our workers compete in world markets,” he said. “This bill, make no mistake about it, is a prescription for a second-class economy.”
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, and Education is scheduled to mark up its version of the bill on July 12, but the final bill is not expected to go to the Senate floor before September.
A table showing the House-approved funding levels for all U.S. Department of Education programs is available at http://www.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/budget06/06action.pdf.
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-House Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ralph Regula, during debate on the FY 2006 Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education appropriations bill