CHN: Congress Unlikely to Complete Appropriations Bills Before Target Adjournment
With the October 8 target adjournment date fast approaching, any chance of Congress completing 13 separate appropriations bills has melted away. Nonetheless, appropriators continue to push bills through committee and onto the floor. The Senate has passed just two appropriations bills (Defense and Homeland Security) while the House has voted on all but two spending bills (Transportation – Treasury and Veterans Affairs – Housing and Urban Development).
House and Senate leaders are openly discussing the likelihood of a lame duck session (after the election). Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) has said he would like his committee to finish its work passing 13 separate bills before October 8. Senate leaders plan to bring as many as three more bills to the Senate floor in the next week. However, the remaining bills would have to be wrapped up in an omnibus package. And with the start of the 2005 fiscal year on October 1, a continuing resolution to keep the government running is a strong possibility. In fact, Congress may be tempted to pass a long-term continuing resolution rather than produce an omnibus bill this fall.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved by a vote of 29 to 0 a $489.8 billion bill funding the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education on Wednesday, September 15. Senate appropriators used accounting maneuvers to cram in more funding for community health centers, Title I and IDEA than the levels approved by the House the previous week. The $496.6 billion House bill, HR 5006 , was approved by a vote of 223 to 193 on Thursday, September 9.
Unfortunately, one of the committee’s maneuvers would push $3.2 billion in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits payments ahead into FY 2006, forcing very low-income elderly or disabled SSI recipients to wait until after a weekend for their monthly check. SSI recipients, whose incomes are on average well below the federal poverty line, are among the least able to provide the federal government a loan for a few days until the new fiscal year begins.
Advocates for working families scored a major victory on overtime regulations in both the House and Senate. The House adopted an amendment offered by Rep. David Obey that essentially overturns the recently implemented Department of Labor regulations on overtime eligibility. The new rules guarantee that low-income workers earning up to $23,660 would be automatically eligible for overtime, but economists have estimated as many as six million workers could lose their right to overtime. The amendment prevents the Department of Labor from taking away overtime from any worker who was eligible before the new rules while maintaining the new right for workers earning up to $23,660. Senator Harkin (D-IA) offered a similar amendment during the September 15 committee mark-up, which appropriators adopted by a vote of 16 to 13. President Bush had earlier vowed to veto the conference bill if it blocks the new overtime regulations.
The House bill provides $142.5 billion in discretionary spending; the Senate committee bill provides $142.3 billion in discretionary spending. Most programs designed to help low- and moderate-income Americans received no new money. Last year’s across-the-board cuts make it appear as though many programs received tiny increases from the previous year, but in truth those “increases” restore funding to 2003 levels. In the House bill:
- Adult Training (WIA) is level-funded at $900 million, the same as the President’s request. Youth Training (WIA) is funded at slightly more than $1 billion, the same as the President’s request and a $6 million increase over last year. Job Corps is funded at $1.542 billion, an increase of 1.8 percent, $15 million below President Bush’s request.
- Service Employment for Older Americans is funded at $440 million, the same as the President’s request and an increase of $1.5 million over last year.
- Community Health Centers is funded at $1.835 billion, a $218 million increase over last year. (The Senate appropriations bill funds the program at $1.9 billion.) The Maternal and Child Health Block Grant is funded at $729.8 billion, the same as last year and the same as the President’s request
- The Child Care and Development Block Grant receives $2.099 billion, the same level it has received at for several years. The Social Services Block Grant is funded at $1.7 billion. Congress has once again failed to keep its promise to restore SSBG to its 1996 level of $2.8 billion. Community Food and Nutrition , funded at $7.2 million last year, is eliminated under the House bill.
- Promoting Safe and Stable Families receives $105 million in discretionary funds, a $5 million increase over last year. (The program also receives $305 million in mandatory funds.) Although the President has requested $200 million in discretionary funds for the last three years, he has done nothing to persuade Congress to fund the program at that level.
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is funded at $2.249 billion, $42 million below the President’s request. The House adopted an amendment offered by Rep. Sanders to increase the energy weatherization assistance portion of LIHEAP by $22 million. See the Campaign for Home Energy Assistance for more information.
- Title I is funded at $13.4 billion, a $1 billion increase and the same as the President’s request. This represents an eight percent increase from last year but still falls $7.2 billion short of the amount promised by the No Child Left Behind education bill. The Senate committee bill boosts Title I by $1.1 billion. Even Start , a reading program for low-income families, was cut by $20 million in the House bill.
- Special Education Grants (IDEA) are funded at $11.1 billion, the same as the President’s request. Though this amount represents an increase of $1 billion from last year, it falls far short of the promise to communities in the original legislation that the federal government would pick up 40 percent of the cost of educating children with disabilities (see story, below). The Senate committee bill provides $161 million more than the House bill for IDEA.
- The maximum Pell Grant higher education awards are frozen at $4,050 annually per student for the second consecutive year. In addition, funding for federal Perkins Loans is cut by $99 million and College Work Study assistance is frozen.
- 21st Century Community Learning Centers (after school centers) are funded at $999 million, the same as the President’s request. This amount represents only half of the $2 billion promised by the No Child Left Behind Act.
The House appropriations committee passed the bill funding the Department of Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, NASA and EPA on July 22 ( HR 5041 ). The Senate subcommittee did not have a formal markup but rather “polled” the subcommittee members and approved the bill on Thursday, September 9.
In the House bill, appropriators restored funding cuts to the Section 8 voucher program and rejected President Bush’s “flexible voucher” (block grant) request. However, the bill language would continue the new practice of budget-based, rather than unit-based funding of the program, which means that housing authorities do not have enough money to fund all of the vouchers currently in use.
But the worst of the bill is the steep cuts to other housing programs. Appropriators claimed that in order to fund the Section 8 vouchers and keep the bill under its allocation limit, they were forced to cut every other housing and homeless program by more than 4 percent from last year’s level. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, some examples of the cuts include:
- Homeless assistance programs cut $53.5 million
- Elderly housing cut $32.7 million
- Disabled housing cut $11 million
- Public Housing Capital Fund cut $116.2 million
- Public Housing Operating Fund cut $153.7 million
- Native American housing cut $28 million
- HOPE VI cut $6.1 million
- Housing for people with AIDS cut $12.7 million
- Community Development Block Grants cut $209.7 million
Housing advocates are working with Senate appropriators to try to avoid these steep cuts in the Senate bill. The full committee has scheduled its mark-up for September 21 at 2:30 p.m.