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HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES PASSES EDUCATION FUNDING BILL: Legislation Draws Veto Threat From President Bush for “Excessive” Spending

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“We cannot disinvest in the country’s future without creating the kind of future that no one wants, but that’s what the administration has been doing for six years now,” Obey said

On July 19, the House of Representatives passed its version of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education appropriations bill. The $607 billion bill contains $152 billion in discretionary spending, which includes approximately $62 billion for the U.S. Department of Education. The bill represents an increase of $5.5 billion in discretionary spending over FY 2007 and is about $6 billion more than President Bush had requested.

During debate on the House floor, Representative David Obey (D-WI), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, called the bill a “good bipartisan product” and took the president to task for shortchanging education and health care.

“We cannot disinvest in the country’s future without creating the kind of future that no one wants, but that’s what the administration has been doing for six years now,” Obey said. “This bill targets additional resources to areas where the nation is facing deficits, like the deficits in access to healthcare and education. We can’t erase those deficits in a single year, but we can begin. This bill rejects the arbitrary cuts called for by the president and invests a small portion of the resources that are needed to get us where we want to be, as a nation, in ten years. Instead of spending billions on the war in Iraq and on tax cuts for people making over a million bucks a year, this bill begins to make the long-term investments in areas like healthcare, education, and medical research that will prepare us for the kind of future we all want.”

While acknowledging that some Republicans would have preferred to spend a little less money in the bill, Representative Jim Walsh (R-NY), the top Republican on the Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, praised the bipartisan nature of the negotiations on the bill and was satisfied with the final product. “[T]his bill addresses many of the most critical issues confronting our nation—our families’ health care, our children’s education, our retirement security and our own workplace protection and job training needs,” Walsh said. “If I were chairman, and I had this allocation, I’m not sure I would have written the bill a whole lot differently.”

Although the House of Representatives spent approximately twenty-five hours debating amendments to the bill, very few were approved. One that did pass was offered by Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX); it cut $46.5 million from the beleaguered Reading First program and transferred those funds to the Safe Schools and Citizenship Education program. (Funding for the Reading First program had already been cut by the House Appropriations Committee by $629 million, or 61.1 percent. Investigations into that program have revealed cases of mismanagement and have raised ethical questions.)

Discussing the amendment, Representative Obey suggested that some funding could be restored to the Reading First program later in the appropriations process. “It’s our hope that by the time we get to conference, we will have worked out enough of an understanding with the administration about the corrections that are needed so that we don’t have to take the deep cuts [to Reading First] that are in the bill now,” he said.

Other successful amendments included one by Representative Mike Ferguson (R-NJ) that increased special education funding by $50 million and one by Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) that provided an additional $16 million for a program designed to improve the training of math and science teachers.

Several amendments that would have reduced the overall spending levels in the bill were defeated. For example, amendments byRepresentatives John Campbell (R-CA)Jim Jordan (R-OH)Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO), and Tom Price (R-GA) would have imposed an acrossthe- board cut ranging from 0.25 percent to 4.6 percent to every program included in the bill.

One Republican not inclined to support the bill in its current form is President Bush, who earlier this year said that he would veto any appropriations bill that had higher spending levels that the amount included in his FY 2008 budget. He renewed that threat as the House was considering the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, saying that the bill contained an “irresponsible and excessive level of spending.” In a Statement of Administration Policy released on July 17, the president also took issue with the Congress’s cuts to the Reading First program and its failure to fund the Striving Readers program at the level that he requested in his budget. The president’s budget would fund Striving Readers at $100 million; the House chose to fund the program at $31.9 million, the same level as last year.

In the end, the bill received a significant amount of support from Republicans, with fifty-three voting for the its passage. The final margin was 276–140, with fifteen members not voting. While the margin was significant, it fell short of enough votes to overcome a presidential veto.

Next Steps: Timeline for Senate Debate Remains Unclear

Although the Senate Appropriations Committee passed its version of the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill on June 21, it will not receive consideration on the Senate floor until sometime after the August recess. Given that timeline, some education observers do not think final totals will be available until near the end of the year. “It is going to be a long slog,” as Edward Kealy, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, told Education Daily. “We might have snow on the ground before we see any money.”

During House debate on the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, Representative Jerry Lewis, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, warned that Congress may have to resort to an omnibus appropriations bill that combines several appropriations bills into one if it does not pick up the pace.

“Based on the present pace in both bodies, I have grave concern about our ability to complete our work this year through the regular order process,” he said. “While it is only July, if past experience is any guide, a warning is in order. Once again the Senate is showing absolutely no inclination or ability towards moving appropriations bills, setting up the inevitable end-of-theyear omnibus strategy.”

For funding levels for specific programs, visit https://all4ed.org/federal_policy/budget_FY2008.

The president’s Statement of Administration Policy is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/legislative/sap/110-1/hr3043sap-h.pdf .

How did your member of Congress vote on the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill? The vote breakdown is available athttp://clerk.house.gov/evs/2007/roll686.xml.

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