CHN: House and Senate to Attempt Passing a Final Bill Cutting Aid to Poor
Next week the House and Senate will attempt to pass a final version of a bill slashing funding for programs that help the most needy Americans. Before the Thanksgiving recess, both the House and Senate approved their own version of a budget reconciliation bill that cuts funding to mandatory programs (those that do not need annual appropriations) (H.R. 4241 and S. 1932). The Senate bill cuts $35 billion and the House cuts $50 billion.
The difference between those two bills must be ironed out in the next few days. The final bill that emerges from the conference committee will be voted on in each chamber. The reconciliation bill represents the top priority for right-wing members – yet many representatives and senators have voiced concerns over a wide variety of provisions under consideration. It is not yet clear Republican leadership will find enough votes to pass any final bill. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) has threatened to keep the House in session until December 20 or later until the House agrees to the budget cuts.
Although right-wing members claim the cuts are necessary to reduce the deficit, any money “saved” from cutting services is being directed to pay for new tax cuts benefiting the wealthy. In fact the coupling of two reconciliation bills – one cutting services and one cutting tax cuts – actually increase the deficit. For more information about the tax cuts, see related article in this issue.
To combat the budget cuts, low-income advocates are planning a National Week of Prayer and Action for Compassionate Priorities for December 12-16. Advocates are being encouraged to call their representatives and senators next week and the Emergency Campaign for America’s Priorities is staging more than 90 events across the country. The faith-based organization Sojourners will hold a prayer vigil at the U.S. Capitol on December 14. Dozens of other prayer vigils will be held elsewhere in the country that week.
There are stark differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget-cutting bill – and those differences could trip up negotiators. If Congress is not able to approve the final bill before the end of the year, they could attempt to bring it up again in January. The budget resolution for fiscal year 2006, which Congress approved in the spring and which granted authority for the reconciliation bill, will remain in effect until Congress passes the next budget resolution for fiscal year 2007.
The Senate budget cutting bill (S. 1932) was approved November 3 by a vote of 52 to 47 with all Democrats except Mary Landrieu (LA) and Ben Nelson (NE) opposed. All Republican senators but five voted for the cuts. The House budget-cutting bill (H.R. 4241) was approved November 18 with all Democrats opposed and all but 14 Republicans in favor.
Here is a brief summary of what is in the House and Senate bills. (This list is not comprehensive.)
Medicaid: The Senate would cut Medicaid by about $6.1 billion over the next five years – but the burden of those cuts would be borne by the drug and insurance industry. H.R. 4241, on the other hand, would cut $11.4 billion from Medicaid and would allow states to require poor mothers and children to pay more for their health care. A family of three earning $18,000 a year could face total Medicaid charges of as much as $900 per year. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates 80 percent of the savings generated from these changes will come from people not getting care because they can’t afford it. The CBO estimates 100,000 people will lose Medicaid altogether. Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) pledges to oppose any Medicaid cuts that harm beneficiaries.
Food Stamps: The Senate chose not to cut Food Stamps. The House bill denies Food Stamps to at least 255,000 people . At least 185,000 low-income working families with children will lose assistance, plus 70,000 legal immigrants who have been in this country for five years or more. Several Republican senators signed a letter urging rejection of Food Stamp cuts in final bill: Gordon Smith, Mike DeWine (OH), Richard Lugar (IN), Susan Collins (ME), Arlen Specter (PA), Chuck Hagel (NE), Rick Santorum (PA), Olympia Snowe (ME), Jim Talent (MO), Norm Coleman (MN), Lincoln Chafee (RI), Elizabeth Dole (NC), and Charles Grassley (IA).
Child Support: The House bill cuts $5 billion from child support enforcement. As a result of this cut, children in families owed child support by an absent parent will lose $24 billion in support over ten years. The Senate bill does not cut child support enforcement. Forty senators have signed a letter objecting to cuts to child support enforcement.
Aid to Disabled: H.R. 4241 cuts $730 million from Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Poor people with severe disabilities will have to wait longer to receive the aid the federal government owes them. It often takes months or a year for a disabled person to be approved for SSI. Now he or she gets a lump sum payment that can help pay back rent or other bills for the period when no money was coming in. The House bill would spread out the owed benefits over many months – and if the disabled person dies while waiting, the government gets to keep the money. The Senate bill does not cut SSI.
TANF/Welfare Reform: The House bill requires many more families to participate for longer hours in paid or unpaid work. The bill provides an inadequate $500 million in new child care funds – half of what previous House bills proposed. As a result, 330,000 fewer children will receive child care help. The bill makes it harder for poor parents to get education, training, rehabilitation or other services to enable them to work at decent pay. S. 1932 does not include TANF provisions. Welfare advocates have been asking senators to object to including TANF in a reconciliation bill. Six Republican senators have signed a letter being circulated by Olympia Snowe (ME) asking Majority Leader Bill Frist (TN) to ensure TANF stays out of a final bill. Signers include: Senators DeWine, Chafee, Coleman, Specter, and Collins.
Foster Care: The House bill cuts $600 million from programs for abused and neglected children. The bill limits eligibility for federal foster care payments for grandparents taking care of their grandchildren. The Senate bill does not make cuts to child welfare programs.
LIHEAP: The House bill includes a $1 billion increase for home energy assistance for low-income households. Acknowledging predictions of sky-high heating oil and electricity costs this winter, Republican leaders added LIHEAP money as a sweetener to the bill to attract Northeastern and Midwestern moderates. The Senate bill does not include additional LIHEAP funds.
Arctic Drilling: The Senate bill would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling; the House bill does not. To many observers, drilling in the Arctic will be a lynchpin issue in the negotiations. A group of House moderates vow to defeat any bill that includes arctic drilling but Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) has said he would vote against a bill that does not include drilling.
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