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SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE APPROVES EDUCATION FUNDING BILL: Dispute Over Earmarks Delays House Action

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“While the President spends $10 billion every month in Iraq, we have invested a fraction of that figure above his inadequate budget request in key domestic priorities here at home,” Byrd said

Earlier this month, the U.S. House Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education Appropriations Subcommittee allocated $61.7 billion for the U.S. Department of Education in the fiscal year (FY) 2008 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill. (More information on the House subcommittee bill is available at https://all4ed.org/publication_material/straight_as/7/12). In the next step in the appropriations process, the full House Appropriations Committee was scheduled to consider the bill on June 14, but a disagreement over members’ special projects (often referred to as “pork” or “earmarks”) delayed its consideration.2 The House Appropriations Committee is now expected to consider the bill sometime in July.

The Senate has moved forward toward finalizing an appropriations bill, however, and on June 19, the Senate Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee passed its version of the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill. Two days later, on June 21, the full Senate Appropriations Committee gave its approval to the legislation. In the Senate version, the U.S. Department of Education would receive $60.1 billion—an increase of approximately $4.1 billion over the amount requested by President Bush in his FY 2008 budget, but about $1.6 billion less than the amount included in the House subcommittee’s bill.

The differences between the House and the Senate bills will eventually be addressed in a House-Senate conference that will occur after both chambers pass their own version of the bills. Because neither bill is expected to reach the floor of its respective chamber before July, the House-Senate conference will probably not occur until sometime in September at the earliest. After a compromise is reached, the bill will be sent to the president for his consideration. Already, however, President Bush has threatened to veto any appropriations bill that exceeds the amount in his FY 2008 budget.

Perhaps anticipating a showdown with President Bush over the increased spending in the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, took an opportunity to contrast the funding increase in the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill with the amount spent on the war in Iraq. “While the President spends $10 billion every month in Iraq, we have invested a fraction of that figure above his inadequate budget request in key domestic priorities here at home,” Byrd said. “For too long, our education system and health facilities have been burdened with the Bush Administration’s unfunded mandates and empty promises…. With this bill, we are placing real dollars in programs that are vital to strengthening the foundation of this country.”

Among specific programs, the Senate Appropriations Committee allocated $13.9 billion for the Title I program—the same amount requested by President Bush, but approximately $450 million below the amount in the House subcommittee’s bill. Special education programs would also receive a significant bump in the Senate subcommittee’s bill, going from $10.8 billion in FY 2007 to $12.3 billion in FY 2008. This amount represents $1.8 billion more than the president’s budget request and $1.3 billion more than the House subcommittee’s bill. Other programs that would receive increases under the bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee include the Striving Readers program, which would receive a $4.1 million increase; Statewide Data Systems, which would receive a $33.4 million boost; TRIO, which would receive a $30 million increase; and GEAR UP, which would receive a $10 million increase.

Like the House subcommittee, the Senate Appropriations Committee chose to send a message about the mismanagement of the Reading First program by cutting its funding by $375 million, an amount lower than the House subcommittee’s $629 million reduction. Over the past few months, investigations focused on the program’s implementation have revealed cases of mismanagement and have raised ethical questions.

The Smaller Learning Communities program also fared poorly, with the Senate Appropriations Committee choosing to eliminate all of the $93.5 million that it received in FY 2007. The Senate also proposed to eliminate funding for the program last year, but the full amount was restored during negotiations with the House of Representatives. A similar scenario could develop this year as the House subcommittee allocates $93.5 million for the program in its version of the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill for FY 2008.

chart comparing the funding levels for selected education programs under President Bush’s budget request, the Senate Appropriations Committee, and the House Appropriations Subcommittee is available at https://all4ed.org/federal_policy/budget_FY2008.

2) Because of a lack of transparency around the earmark process in the past and questions about whether members of Congress receive a personal benefit from earmarks, new rules now require the sponsors of earmarks to be identified and to certify that they do not have a financial interest in them. (For more information on the earmark controversy, see a recent article in the Washington Post, available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/21/AR2007062101199.html.)

 

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