On October 23, the U.S. Senate passed the Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill by a margin large enough to overcome a likely veto by President Bush. The bill, which funds the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), Education, and other agencies such as the Social Security Administration, passed by a vote of 75-19. In total, for all departments and agencies that the bill funds, it 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.
Since the Senate vote, the Democratic leadership has been considering different strategies on how to move the bill forward in an effort to garner the most Republican support. One strategy reportedly under consideration was combining the Labor-HHS-Education bill with the Defense and the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs appropriations bills into a $700 billion “mini-bus” spending bill that would make up about 70 percent of the discretionary spending for FY 2008. Ultimately, that strategy was dropped.
Before the decision to abandon that strategy was made, President Bush said he would veto such a “three-bill pileup” if it were presented to him and urged Congress to pass each bill “one at a time in a fiscally responsible manner that reflects agreement between the legislative branch and the executive branch.” In response, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), challenged the Bush administration to “come to the table and discuss its opposition to the levels in these funding bills,” rather than “continuing to fuel the fire of overblown partisan rhetoric.”
“We should sit down and discuss why the Bush administration believes it is necessary to forego vital education, health care and research, veterans medical care, crime prevention, and homeland security funding,” Byrd said. “President Bush seems to have no problem with using the bully pulpit to threaten to veto these spending bills in order to score easy political points. But when it comes down to doing the hard work-coming to the table to discuss what the President wants to cut and why-President Bush ducks the responsibility of leadership.”
On November 1, House and Senate conferees met to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the FY 2008 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill. In the end, they adopted a version that includes $60.7 billion for the U.S. Department of Education, roughly $1.3 billion less than what the House included in its bill but $600 million more than the Senate bill and $4.5 billion above the amount that the president requested in his budget. They also agreed to combine the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill with the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs appropriations bill.
By combining spending on education and health with military construction and veterans, the Democratic leadership is hoping to get enough Republican support to override a likely veto from President Bush. The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the combined bill on November 7, with the Senate vote occurring shortly thereafter. Both chambers are expected to pass the bill, but the level of Republican support it will receive is still unknown. Additionally, the bill could be subjected to several procedural objections in the Senate that could delay its passage.
With a veto likely and an attempt to override it still on the horizon, it is doubtful that final funding for the U.S. Department of Education will be approved before December. What is certain is that Congress will need to pass another continuing resolution to temporarily fund the federal government while the appropriations process is being finished. The current continuing resolution expires on November 16.
Funding levels for certain programs under the U.S. Department of Education as proposed by the Senate, House of Representatives, House-Senate compromise bill, and President Bush are available at https://all4ed.org/files/Fiscal08ProgramChart.pdf.