On January 31, the House of Representatives voted 286–140 to keep government running for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2007 by passing a $463.5 billion yearlong continuing resolution. The resolution was necessary because the 109th Congress failed to pass nine of the eleven annual appropriations bills before adjourning. Instead, it passed a temporary continuing resolution to fund the government until February 15. The new resolution now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass as soon as this week; it will fund programs until September 30, when the fiscal year ends. The White House has indicated support, as the resolution keeps to the spending limits that President Bush and congressional Republicans insisted upon last year.
Rather than trying to pass each of the remaining appropriations bills individually, the incoming Democratic chairmen of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) and Representative David Obey (D-WI), chose this way of quickly dispensing with FY 2007 spending in order to move on to the FY 2008 budget process, which began in earnest when the president submitted his budget on February 5 (see article below).
The continuing resolution freezes most programs at their FY 2006 funding levels. “I don’t expect people to love this proposal; I don’t love this proposal, and we probably have made some wrong choices,” said Obey. “But in contrast to last year’s Congress, which decided to duck these choices, at least we have made them in order to bring last year’s issues to a conclusion so we can turn the page and deal with next year’s priorities.”
Push for Additional Funding for Education and Health Care is Successful
For the last several weeks, a coalition of approximately 250 health, education, and other domestic organizations, including the Alliance for Excellent Education, pushed hard for an additional $2 billion for domestic priorities on top of the $5 billion increase already included in the resolution; the House-passed measure did include that additional $2 billion. The amount sought was significant for two reasons: it would restore cuts in funding that were made in FY 2006, and it would honor the commitment that the Senate made in March 2006 when it approved an amendment by Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) that set aside an additional $7 billion for the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Labor. The amendment had passed 73–27, with considerable bipartisan support.
Assuming that the resolution is passed in the Senate and signed by the president, the U.S. Department of Education will receive a total of $57.5 billion. Specifically, the Title I program will receive $12.8 billion, an increase of $125 million. Funding also includes an additional $125 million for the Title I School Improvement Fund, a new program that targets assistance to the 6,700 schools that failed to meet No Child Left Behind requirements in the 2005–2006 school year. Under the program, schools can use funding for improvement activities, such as teacher training, tutoring programs, and curriculum upgrades. In addition, the resolution provides $10.7 billion for special education (an increase of $200 million), and $6.9 billion (an increase of $103.7 million) for Head Start. It also raises the maximum Pell grant award from $4,050 to $4,310, the first increase in four years.
Other programs slated for increases include the National Institutes of Health, global HIV/AIDS, and Community Health Centers. Most other programs are funded at FY 2006 levels, although the resolution includes increased funding to avoid imposing furloughs and hiring freezes, or cutting critical services such as medical care for veterans.
Senator Byrd and Representative Obey were able to redirect approximately $10 billion in funding for these programs by eliminating earmarks—sometimes referred to as “pork”—from the nine unfinished appropriations bills, rescinding unused funds for transportation programs and reducing more than 60 programs below their FY 2006 levels.