CHN: Congress Approves Funding For The Year We’re In
With funding for federal agencies due to run out on February 15, the Senate approved a joint funding resolution on February 14 by the wide margin of 81 to 15. The Senate passed the same FY 2007 appropriations as had been approved by the House, H.J. Res. 20, avoiding the need to negotiate differences between the two versions. Some Senators had sought to add funds for certain items, but increases would have required unpopular cuts elsewhere and greatly complicated final enactment. When the Senate voted 71 to 26 to close off debate on February 13, it was clear that the vast majority wished to finish up funding decisions for a fiscal year already more than four months underway. President Bush signed the bill on February 15, in time to prevent a government shut-down. For a description of the spending bill, see the February 5 Human Needs Report, http://www.chn.org/humanneeds/070205a.html.)
The new leadership in Congress made modest but important changes in priorities by preventing cuts in a number of programs for low-income people, including housing, Head Start, and K-12 education. The bill even increased the maximum size of Pell Grants by $260 (to $4,310) – a small adjustment after four years at $4,050. Sticking with the cap on spending set by the previous Congress, all acknowledged there was not much room for improvement in FY 2007.
Congressional leaders responded to concerns that well-connected interests have held too much sway in funding decisions by eliminating earmarks from the bill. Frequently earmark language does not add dollars, but designates use within existing funds for specific projects. Removing the earmarks makes some savings, but also gives the administration more flexibility to determine how the funding is spent. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) added considerably to this flexibility by interpreting the new spending resolution as canceling thousands of prior year earmarks not yet spent unless they were explicitly included in statute.
Advocates are now at work making the case for substantial gains in meeting people’s needs in the FY 2008 budget, reversing the downward trends of the past years.
To see the Senate’s roll call vote on final passage: http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=110&session=1&vote=00048
To see OMB’s directive to cancel even prior year earmarks: