Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have passed their FY 2016 spending bills for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education. The bills provide $153 billion in discretionary (annually appropriated) spending, $3.6 billion below the FY 2015 level and at least $14.5 billion below the amount proposed by President Obama. The Obama budget rejected the sequestration caps and so was able to include modest increases for priorities like preschool education, and was more able to fund job training and other programs consistent with legislation recently passed by Congress. Both the House and Senate bills fail these tests. Because the Senate committee chose to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health, the Child Care and Development Block Grant and a few other areas, other programs had to be cut more deeply in order to stay within the rigid cap. While the Senate bill is $3.6 billion below this year’s funding, programs are cut by $6 billion overall.
Throughout the three departments covered by the bill, Senate funding is frequently lower than this year’s spending, and cuts more deeply than the House in many key program areas. In the sample of programs below, only in the programs highlighted in yellow did the Senate fund at higher levels than the House.
Sampling of Labor-HHS-Education Programs as Passed by Appropriations Committees
Even in some of the programs where there is at least some increase over current spending, funding is not enough to meet current needs. The small increase in Head Start, for example, will not cover a cost of living increase for Head Start centers. If that shortfall were to be absorbed by reducing enrollment, it would result in more than 12,000 children being denied Head Start, according to the Senate minority appropriations staff. The President’s budget would allow all Head Start programs to be full-day and year-round, which is not possible at the House and Senate funding levels. In addition, both the House and Senate committees reject the President’s proposed $750 million for Preschool Development grants. Current funding provided grants in 18 states; if allowed to continue, these would serve 177,000 four year-olds. The Senate cuts job training $331 million below this year’s funding for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act programs, estimated to deny services to 1.4 million youth, dislocated workers and veterans. Both the House and Senate slash teen pregnancy prevention. The Senate even cuts college work study below this year’s levels.
There are many policy riders in both the House and Senate bills that are vigorously opposed by health care and education advocates and organized labor, among others. There is language to prevent HHS from spending money to support the Affordable Care Act’s state marketplaces. (See article about the ACA elsewhere in this issue.) There are provisions to limit actions by the National Labor Relations Board related to union elections or certain labor standards. There is also language to keep the Department of Education from setting standards around employment outcomes for for-profit education/training institutions.
Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), senior Democrat on the Labor-HHS-Ed Appropriations Subcommittee, offered an amendment to increase funding levels throughout the bill beyond the sequester cap. The increased funding was defeated. Democrats have called for a negotiation to exceed the caps, but although some Republican appropriators have expressed support for increased funding if the caps were to be lifted, leadership is not yet willing to talk.