CHN: Congressional Leadership Ignores Senate’s Vote to Prevent Cuts

The President signed a supplemental spending bill on June 15 that included funds for defense and for additional aid for hurricane-stricken states.  Also included in this legislation (H.R. 4949) is a spending total for annual appropriations in FY 2007 that will be enforceable in the Senate.  (The House has already set similar levels.)  The total included here is $873 billion for appropriations (including defense, homeland security, international affairs, and domestic spending) – the same number proposed in the President’s budget.  This figure is at least $14 billion below the amount needed just to keep pace with inflation.
The Senate had voted in March in favor of a budget that was $16 billion over the President’s figure – enough to prevent cuts and to make very modest increases in critical priorities.  But because the House and Senate never agreed on a final budget resolution, both the House and Senate were required to separately set funding totals that the House and Senate Appropriations Committees would divide up among all the appropriations bills.  By agreeing to the President’s number, the total provided through the supplemental spending bill appears to reverse a number of Senate victories, including a 73-27 vote in favor of the Specter-Harkin amendment to add $7 billion for health, education, and other domestic programs.

The House earlier took action to use the President’s $873 billion, while making promises to moderates to add some funding beyond the President’s request to domestic programs.  (The Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, for example is about $4 billion above the President’s recommendation.  The House figure was still too little to prevent significant cuts – see article about the House Labor-HHS-Ed bill in this issue.  Some moderate Republicans and most Democrats are expected to oppose the cuts forced in the House Labor-H bill, in an attempt to get the House to go back to the drawing board.)

It is not over yet.  Both the House and Senate can shift spending from defense, for example, and into domestic priorities.  This may not exactly be a “swords into ploughshares” moment – the strategy would be to take from defense temporarily in order to make the domestic funding more palatable, with the expectation that Congress would come back later with an emergency supplemental budget to restore defense spending.  Emergency legislation does not have to fit within the $873 billion spending limit set by Congress.  Observers may differ on the wisdom of this tactic, but it would provide funds that would significantly reduce the need for cuts in human needs programs.  There are reports that Senate Appropriations Chair Thad Cochran (R-MS) has agreed to make a $7 billion shift from defense to domestic programs, but there is no official confirmation yet.  Those trying to protect low-income people from service reductions have more work to do to secure the needed funds.

To see the Senate roll call vote on the Specter-Harkin amendment,

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