A flurry of action on education spending began in the House last week and pitted Republican moderates against hard-line conservatives with the spending total for the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill hanging in the balance. With the November elections looming large, both sides are looking to shore up support among their constituents.
In the House, Republican moderates are hesitant to support the President’s modest 2.8 percent requested increase for fear of alienating voters in their districts, many of whom favor increases in popular domestic programs like education. Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE), a leading Republican moderate, spoke out against the President’s budget, saying that moderates will not support the bill without “additional funding.” Castle’s comments echo those of many Republicans in the House who are frustrated by what they see as a bare-bones bill and want the House to move more in the direction of the Senate, which is operating with $9 billion more than the President’s budget request. Republican conservatives, meanwhile, want to hold the President’s line to show fiscal responsibility and appeal to the GOP voting base.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has already unanimously approved a $4.2 billion increase for education over last year and $2.8 billion more than the President’s budget for fiscal 2003. At the same time, a growing coalition of senators is trying to add an additional $3 to $4 billion for Title I, special education, Pell Grants and other student aid. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) has said that the Senate will not consider further appropriations bills until after the House has acted on them. Such a decision would put off Senate floor consideration of the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill until at least the week of Sept. 16.