CHN: Appropriations Bills Hit a Snag

Chairman Obey (D-WI) had just finished praising some retiring Republican members of the House Committee on Appropriations, but the bipartisan friendliness was soon to be shelved. Just after the Committee began considering the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education spending bill, Ranking Republican Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) offered an amendment to substitute the Department of Interior appropriations bill instead.  Rep. Lewis wanted to use the country’s heightened sensitivity about high gas prices to seize the opportunity to vote on offshore oil drilling amendments.   Chairman Obey was not pleased.  He suggested that if Rep. Lewis wanted to control the order of the appropriations bills to be considered, he should go elect another 30 Republicans (that is, secure enough votes for the Republicans to regain the majority in the House).  He added, “It’s stunts like this that make people hate Washington.”
After it became clear that the minority on the Committee planned not just to force a quick vote on the Interior bill before returning to Labor-HHS-Ed but to stall the proceedings through a series of amendments, there was a hasty motion to adjourn.  There was no reviving Committee activity before Congress left for its Fourth of July recess.
Chairman Obey, who had previously announced his expectation to bring many appropriations bills to the House floor in July, now voiced pessimism that any bills would make it to the floor.  Instead, he and others predicted that spending bills for FY 2009 would be bundled into a Continuing Resolution (CR), a temporary measure designed to keep government running until a new administration takes office.  Assuming a more favorable chief executive, final appropriations could then be approved without the threat of a presidential veto.

But while advocates recognize the difficulties of enacting needed funding increases in the face of veto threats by the Bush Administration, they would still prefer Congress to adopt as many appropriations bills as possible, or at least for the House and Senate to take floor votes on them.  The funding levels in those bills, unlike the usually flat-funded CR, could provide a record of increases that could then be adopted in the final appropriations legislation under the new administration.

Until the pre-recess House Appropriations Committee implosion, the full Committee had reported out five of its dozen bills:  Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy-Water, Financial Services, Homeland Security, and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs.  The Senate Appropriations Committee has reported out three bills so far:  Commerce-Justice-Science, Homeland Security, and Labor-HHS-Ed.

So far the House and Senate appropriators have not provided detailed information about the funding levels they are recommending for most of their bills, instead issuing press releases highlighting the programs where there are increases, and remaining silent about services that may be level-funded or cut.  In general, it appears that Congress is intent on rejecting most of the President’s proposed cuts.

Labor-HHS-Education:  While the President would cut the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) by $570 million (22 percent), the House Labor-HHS-Ed Subcommittee would add $200 million over current year funding.  The President would hack $760 million out of the Social Services Block Grant (from its current $1.7 billion total); the House bill keeps funding at $1.7 billion for yet another year.  The President once again proposed eliminating the Community Services Block Grant, which funds community action agencies’ administration of programs such as LIHEAP, weatherization, Head Start, and many other services.  The House would increase CSBG funding by $46 million.  The Subcommittee recommended $7.1 billion for Head Start, or $223 million over the current year.  That would not be enough to undo the effective $1 billion cut Head Start has had to absorb since 2002, according to the National Head Start Association. Without restored funding, programs will be forced to implement reductions of up to 14,000 children.  The Subcommittee also increases child care block grant funding by $50 million, to $2.1 billion, after years of level-funding.   The House bill makes modest increases in Job Corps and YouthBuild, two youth employment and training programs, while the President’s budget cut Job Corps.  In addition, training for dislocated workers would be increased by $40 million, instead of agreeing to the President’s cut of $241 million.

The full Senate Appropriations Committee approved its Labor-HHS-Education bill on June 26.  It too funded Head Start at $7.1 billion, and is reported to increase block grant funds for child care by $75 million, a little more than the House Subcommittee.  The Senate Committee proposes $14.5 billion for aid to school districts with large numbers of low-income students, less than the $15.1 billion proposed in the House Subcommittee.  Both are increases over this year’s funding.  The Senate Committee also increases funding for state grants for the education of children with special needs (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA) beyond the current year, but provides $127 million less funding than the House bill so far.

Agriculture:  The pattern of rejecting Bush Administration cuts is repeated in the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.  Once again the President had proposed eliminating the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, a cut the Subcommittee rejects.

Commerce-Justice-Science:  Both the House and Senate full Appropriations Committees have reported out FY 2009 funding for C-J-S programs.  Among the ones of particular concern to human needs advocates, both House and Senate have rejected substantial cuts proposed by the President for juvenile justice programs.  The Senate recommends $400 million for juvenile justice programs, $215 million more than the President’s budget.  The House Committee proposes $431 million, or $246 million beyond the President’s request.  Current year funding for these services is $383.5 million.  Both House and Senate also increase funds to prevent Violence Against Women.  The House Committee recommends $435 million; the Senate proposes $415 million.  (This year, $400 million is appropriated for these programs.  The President requested only $280 million for FY 2009.)  In addition, this appropriations bill provides funding for the Census Bureau, including preparations for the 2010 census.  The House Committee provided $2.6 billion.  It received a belated request by the Administration to add $546 million, but did not receive the request in time to incorporate it.  The Senate did so, and funds the Census Bureau at $3.15 billion.  Both House and Senate are intent on adequately funding the Census.

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