On November 15, the House of Representatives fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority required to override President Bush’s veto of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education appropriations bill. The final vote tally was 277-141, with fifty-one Republicans voting to override the president’s veto. Fifteen members of Congress did not vote.
The vetoed bill would have provided the U.S. Department of Education with $60.7 billion in discretionary funding, an increase of $3.2 billion over last year and $4.7 billion over President Bush’s budget. Overall, the legislation, which also funds the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services and agencies such as the Social Security Administration, would have provided $150.7 billion in discretionary funding, $9.8 billion more than the president’s budget.
In a statement that accompanied his veto, the president said, “This bill spends too much. … This year, the Congress plans to overspend my budget by $22 billion, of which $10 billion is for increases in this bill. Health care, education, job training, and other goals can be achieved without this excessive spending if the Congress sets priorities.”
In their attempt to override the president’s veto, Democrats hoped that they would be able to draw support from Republican moderates and members of the House Appropriations Committee, both of whom had indicated a willingness to spend more than the president had requested. Indeed, during the debate to override the president’s veto, House Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Walsh (R-NY) called the bill a “good, solid work product,” and a “thoughtful piece of legislation.”
Democrats Announce New Appropriations Strategy to Halve the Spending Increase
In a somewhat unusual move, immediately prior to the vote, Congressional Democrats announced that they would cut the increase in spending in the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill by 50 percent. “We’re going to send [the president] another piece of legislation,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). “This one likely will be to split the difference. And it has some tremendously difficult cuts in it.”
As part of the plan, the remaining spending bills, including the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, would be combined into an omnibus spending bill that would cut $11 billion from the $22 billion that the president has said he will not support. Reid added that the omnibus bill would come up for a vote after Congress returns from its Thanksgiving recess but did not offer a more specific timetable other than to say that the measure would be considered before Christmas.
Explaining why Democrats announced such an agreement just prior to the vote to override, House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-WI) said, “People might like to cast a vote without having to take the responsibility for knowing the consequences. But there are severe consequences for voting against overriding the president’s veto of the Labor, Health, and Education bill. If this veto is not overridden, the best that can happen is that we will wind up splitting the difference with the president’s wholly inadequate budget.”
Obey then explained some of the cuts that would be need to be made to move closer to the president’s budget. Specifically, he said that vocational education would be cut by 25 percent and that the proposed increases for Title I and special education would be cut from $400 million and $800 million, respectively, to $200 million and $400 million. “Please remember that everything that I have described is a ‘best-case scenario’ if this bill is defeated and we have to pursue a ‘split-the-difference alternative,'” he said.
Judging by the White House’s reaction to the split-the-difference proposal, the president could very well demand that Democrats cut spending even further. “The president has been clear that Congress should adhere to the budgetary process and pass individual funding bills at reasonable and responsible spending levels,” said Office of Management and Budget spokesman Sean Kevelighan. “Perhaps Democratic leadership in Congress-who has made promise after promise to complete their work-should concern itself less with capturing political news cycles and more on their fundamental responsibility to fund the federal government.”
However, the latest move by the Democrats seems to be geared more toward attracting additional Republican support than it is to encourage the president to capitulate. According to media reports, there are a lot of moderate Republicans who support much of the additional funding that Democrats have proposed, even though many believe that the Democrats overreached with their initial funding plans. On the other end of the ideological spectrum, House conservatives are already talking about trying to force Democrats into passing a long-term continuing resolution that would fund the government at last year’s levels.
“It’s a curious position [Republicans have] taken,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL). “They helped us write the bills. They put earmarks in the bills, they vote for the bills and then they have these symbolic procedural votes to say, ‘But if it gets right down to it, we’ll vote against these bills.’ So I’m not sure where they are.”
How did your Representative vote on the proposal to override President Bush’s veto? The final vote totals are available athttp://clerk.house.gov/evs/2007/roll1122.xml.