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OBEY AMENDMENT TO INCREASE EDUCATION FUNDING $5 BILLION FAILS ON HOUSE FLOOR: House Goes on to Approve Smallest Education Increase in Eight Years

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"The core of the problem lies with the budgetary policies of the Republican Majority that controls the Congress-policies that favor repeated rounds of tax cuts, targeted at the highest income levels, ahead of all other national priorities."

On July 10, during consideration of the fiscal 2004 education spending bill, the House of Representatives rejected an amendment by House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member David Obey (D-WI) that would have provided a $5 billion overall increase for education over FY 2003 by reducing the size of the tax cut. While the House of Representatives eventually passed a spending bill that provides $55.4 billion for education programs in fiscal 2004, the total increase, 4.3 percent more than the fiscal 2003 funding level, is the smallest increase for education in eight years.

According to Obey, his amendment would have reduced the size of the tax cut for the 200,000 taxpayers with incomes of more than $1 million per year. Instead of receiving the $88,000 tax break provided in the tax cut legislation, millionaires would receive tax cuts of about $60,000 a year. On a procedural motion, a vote to consider the amendment failed by a 199-222 vote and was, therefore, not allowed to come up for a vote.

During the debate on the bill, Democratic members claimed that the majority’s affinity for tax cuts has led to the tight spending limits this year. Rep. Obey, among others, criticized the fiscal policies of House Republicans:

The core of the problem lies with the budgetary policies of the Republican Majority that controls the Congress-policies that favor repeated rounds of tax cuts, targeted at the highest income levels, ahead of all other national priorities. While the funds necessary to provide an adequate level of services through the programs contained in this bill are substantial, they represent only a tiny fraction of the $136 billion in FY 2004 tax cuts just voted into law by this Congress.

 

An additional amendment was offered by Rep. Tom Allen (D-ME), which would have waived NCLB’s accountability requirements unless Congress provided the full authorized funding level of $18.5 billion for the Title I program in fiscal 2004. The amendment failed by a vote of 199-223.

Despite objections by Obey and his Democratic colleagues, the House was able pass the fiscal 2004 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill by a vote of 215-208. No Democrats voted for the bill, but nine Republicans crossed party lines to vote against it.

Education Advocates Remain Hopeful for Additional Funding in the Senate

According to CQ Weekly, with the passage of the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill, House Republican leaders believe they cleared a major hurdle and now hope for relatively smooth sailing for all 13 appropriations bills-at least through the party-line-toeing House of Representatives. The more difficult hurdle to passage will come when the Senate considers the bill-which is not likely to occur until September, after Congress returns from the August recess.

While House rules usually allow the majority party to block amendments and prevent members from having to make a politically tough vote, the rules (and tradition) in the Senate are more protective of the minority. Already, Democratic senators are planning to offer a number of targeted education amendments that would increase funding levels for Title I, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, GEAR UP, TRIO, Afterschool programs, Rural Education, and Pell Grants, among others. Essentially, Republican senators will have to balance their concerns about voting against spending increases for politically popular programs against the tight spending limits that President Bush has imposed on them.

Earlier this year, in negotiations over last year’s spending bill, the Senate passed an education amendment that added $5 billion in untargeted money for education programs, but included an across-the-board cut for all programs, including education, in order to pay for it. Including the $5 billion amendment, the Senate spending bill provided a $6.65 billion increase for education programs-approximately $6 billion more than the House version. In conference negotiations, however, the increase was cut by more than 50 percent to $3.16 billion. Some observers are expecting to see the same scenario during the debate on this year’s education spending bill.

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