CHN: Congress Enacts Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations; President Vetoes
And Another Extension to Keep the Government Running
Congress sent the President legislation providing $150.7 billion in annual appropriations for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, with funding also for the administration of Social Security and several other smaller agencies. Because the amount agreed to by the House and Senate was $9.8 billion more than the President had requested for these programs, the President vetoed the bill (H.R. 3043) on November 13.
Congress may attempt to override the veto before leaving for its Thanksgiving recess (as now scheduled, the last day before the recess is Friday, November 16), but could choose to wait longer.
The difference between the President’s and Congress’ funding levels will be played out in the lives of millions. Choosing the President’s funding over the bill Congress enacted would mean 1.4 million fewer people would receive heating or cooling aid through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Congress’ bill would allow 1.2 million more underinsured people to receive health care at community health centers than the President’s proposal. Congress’ bill makes progress in some areas to allow some rebuilding after six years of cuts. But in some important programs, including Head Start, funding was not enough to keep pace with inflation. Even here, the President’s deeper cut would be equivalent to dropping 34,000 children from Head Start. (For more examples of the differences: http://www.chn.org/pdf/2007/apropdifcongresspres.pdf.)
The Labor-HHS-Education bill includes legislative language placing certain restrictions on spending. One new inclusion in the final bill was very disappointing to advocates, in that it agreed to a Senate provision prohibiting administrative funds for the Social Security Administration to be used to process benefit claims for quarters of work performed while using someone else’s Social Security number. Currently, previously undocumented workers now complying with federal requirements can get credit for their earlier quarters of work. Denying them credit for work performed makes the path to legal status much more difficult, and would force workers to spend many more years in poverty. This provision is one of the repeated attacks on immigrant workers being inserted into many bills before Congress this year.
The final vote in the House was on approving the agreement between House and
Senate negotiators – a bipartisan 274 to 141, with 51 Republicans joining 223 Democrats in support. That vote was three votes short of a veto-proof majority (which requires two-thirds of those voting). Seventeen Members did not vote (9 Democrats and 8 Republicans). The House first approved its Labor-HHS-Education spending bill in July; at that time the vote was 276 to 140, or two short of the two-thirds needed to reject a Presidential veto. (For a comparison of the July and November roll call votes: http://www.chn.org/pdf/2007/HouselhhsvoteJulNov8.pdf)
The Senate approved the negotiated final version of the Labor-HHS-Education bill on November 7, but only after a parliamentary snarl in which the Senate thwarted an attempt by the House to adopt legislation combining the Labor-HHS-Education bill with funding for Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. A new Senate rule allows any Senator to raise a point of order against a House-Senate conference committee agreement that includes items extraneous to the initial bill. Military Construction-Veterans Affairs was not in the initial Labor-HHS-Ed bill passed by the Senate in October, so the point of order could only be waived with a 60-vote majority. The vote was 47 to 46, well below the 60 needed, and so the Senate sent the House the Labor-HHS-Education bill alone, on a 56-37 vote.
The presence or absence of other appropriations does not really matter; the size of the majority does. If both the House and Senate achieve two-thirds votes for the override, Congress’ funding level becomes law. If not, Congress can either opt to pass another continuing resolution (to keep annually appropriated programs going at the FY 2007 spending level, perhaps with some adjustments), or can negotiate further changes that will persuade the President to sign or Members to override. For Labor-HHS-Education, funding at the FY 2007 level would be $3.6 billion more than the President proposed, without taking inflation into account. Counting inflation, the President’s proposal is 4.5 percent below FY 2007 spending, while Congress’ bill is 3.5 percent higher than FY 2007 levels. Since the gains in the bill Congress passed are modest and further reductions would be painful, advocates are working hard to let Members of Congress know how important the override is.
Funding Extended till December 14. Although the federal fiscal year began October 1 without appropriations bills enacted, Congress and the President agreed upon a temporary extension at FY 2007 levels through November 16. That continuing resolution (CR) has been extended some more – now through December 14. The CR was tacked on to the Defense appropriations bill, the first one to be signed by the President for the current fiscal year.
For an analysis of appropriations levels, see The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, The Labor-HHS-Education Bill; What’s at Stake, http://www.cbpp.org/11-8-07bud.htm
For CHN’s detailed table of Labor-HHS-Education program funding:http://www.chn.org/pdf/2007/FY08LHHSEd07presconfapprops.pdf.