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SENATE BEGINS DEBATE ON EDUCATION SPENDING BILL: White House Threatens Presidential Veto

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"The president says he wants $12 billion a month for the war in Iraq, but we shouldn't spend [approximately $10 billion] over his budget for one full year for all of the other things we do in education and in health care and in human services," Harkin said

Last week, the Senate began consideration of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill, the largest domestic spending legislation. The bill provides funding for the U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), Education, and other agencies. Although the final vote is not expected before October 23, the bill as it is currently written would provide the U.S. Department of Education with $60.1 billion in discretionary funding in FY 2008. This is $2 billion less than the version of the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill that passed the House of Representatives on July 19, but $4.1 billion more than the amount that President Bush included in his FY 2008 budget request. In total, for all departments and agencies that it funds, the bill would authorize $9.6 billion more in discretionary spending than the amount included in the president’s budget request. For that reason, President Bush has threatened to veto the bill.

During floor debate, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), the chairman of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, pointed out that President Bush’s budget would have cut programs covered by this bill by $3.5 billion compared to last year and questioned the president’s spending priorities.

“The president says he wants $12 billion a month for the war in Iraq, but we shouldn’t spend [approximately $10 billion] over his budget for one full year for all of the other things we do in education and in health care and in human services,” Harkin said. “Rather than cut the essential programs and services in this bill, we have chosen in a bipartisan fashion to provide a very modest increase. So we respectfully disagree with the president. We believe it is time to make investments in this country. It is time for the president to put our own needs here at home first. For five years we have poured untold billions of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars into schools, job programs, hospitals, and human services in Iraq. It is time we looked after those same needs here in America. That is exactly what we propose to do in this bill.”

Prior to the Senate debate, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy criticizing the bill for an “irresponsible and excessive level of spending” and threatened to veto it. “[The Senate Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill] exceeds the president’s request for programs funded in this bill by … $9 billion, part of the [more than $20 billion increase] above the president’s request for FY 2008 appropriations,” the letter reads. “The administration has asked that Congress demonstrate a path to live within the President’s topline and cover the excess spending in this bill through reductions elsewhere, while ensuring the Department of Defense has the resources necessary to accomplish its mission. Because Congress has failed to demonstrate such a path, if [the bill] were presented to the President, he would veto the bill.”

Prior to debate, a coalition of 850 education, labor, and health organizations sent a letter to all one hundred Senate offices in an effort to get a “veto-proof” margin in the Senate in favor of the bill, which would require the support of approximately sixty-seven Senators. If the bill garners that many votes initially, the logic goes, the president might be willing to support the bill in an effort to avoid the embarrassment that a veto override would cause.

“While our organizations represent a wide array of domestic priorities, we are united in our effort to increase discretionary funding substantially for health, education, labor enforcement, job training and social services programs as the appropriations process moves forward,” the letter reads. “This increased investment is essential to sustain and advance the well-being and prosperity of our nation.” (The complete letter is available at http://www.cef.org/).

If the president does veto the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, it will take a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate to override it. Such support is certainly possible, but it would be an uphill climb. For example, on October 18, the House of Representatives attempted to override the president’s veto on a bill that would have expanded a children’s health care program called SCHIP, but fell thirteen votes short. (More information on the SCHIP debate, including Republicans’ reasons for voting against the override is available athttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/18/AR2007101800095.html).

The president’s willingness to spend more money in Iraq but not at home has left more than Democrats puzzled. “I don’t know who’s advising him up there, but the president is really out of touch,” House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member David Hobson (R-OH) told CongressDaily. “It’s too little, too late for him to be a fiscal conservative. He should have vetoed the (2002) farm bill … now he’s against the SCHIP bill, he wants $190 billion more for the war, but he’s picking a fight over $23 billion?”

For funding levels for specific programs, visit https://all4ed.org/files/Fiscal08ProgramChart.pdf.

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