CHN: More Promises Than Funding: The House Adopts An Irresponsible 2007 Budget

After months of failed attempts, the House of Representatives approved a FY 2007 budget resolution in the small hours of the morning on May 18.  The vote was 218 to 210.  The House leadership navigated between the demands of conservatives that funding for domestic programs not exceed the President’s $873 billion and the calls by moderates to add funds in order to prevent at least some cuts.  The moderates did wrest a promise that programs run by the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education may receive an addition of nearly $7.2 billion beyond the President’s figure.
But that addition is tentative for a number of reasons.

First, the budget does maintain the $873.8 billion total proposed by the President for domestic annually appropriated programs – a figure that is more than $10 billion below the amount needed to continue the current level of services next year.

Second, the budget establishes a reserve fund that would allow the addition of $3.1 billion to domestic programs – but only if those funds are paid for by cuts or savings in entitlement programs.  The budget is mum about the nature of these cuts.  Entitlement programs are those that operate without the need for annual appropriations – such as Medicaid, Medicare, unemployment insurance, child support enforcement, Food Stamps, cash aid for the poor, student loans, etc.

Third, a non-binding provision inserted by Representative Castle (R-DE) called for increasing funding for Labor-HHS-Education by nearly $7.2 billion beyond the President’s request – if the increase is paid for by cuts that the Senate agrees to either in entitlement or annually appropriated programs.  Representative Weldon (R-PA) inserted a provision requiring that at least $1 billion of this offset come from unspent Iraqi reconstruction activities.

The agreement leaves in doubt whether the offsetting cuts can be found, or whether they will result in similarly harmful cuts.  The promise was nonetheless enough to sway some of the moderate Republicans who had been withholding their votes.  Twelve Republicans voted ‘no’ despite intense pressure, either because they thought the budget spent too much or too little:  Fitzpatrick (PA), Gerlach (PA), Goode (VA), Hostettler (IN), Johnson (IL), Jones (NC), McHugh (NY), Otter (ID), Ramstad (MN), Renzi (AZ), Sweeney (NY), and Wilson (NM).  No Democrat voted ‘yes.’

The House budget resolution as originally drafted included more than $5 billion in entitlement cuts.  The House calls for making these cuts through the reconciliation process, which would require limited debate and a simple majority vote in the Senate.  The Senate did not call for such fast-tracking of entitlement cuts.  But the new provisions that tie increased funding for health, education and other programs to entitlement cuts may put more pressure on members to agree to such cuts – a prospect very troubling to advocates.  The budget resolution approved by the House requires committees to report reconciliation legislation (the changes in law that will save money) by June 9.

For the funding levels established in this budget resolution to have any force, the House and Senate must agree on a final version.  Most observers are skeptical that such an agreement will ever be reached.  Because appropriations bills are starting to move forward and need spending guidelines, the House attached the figures they just adopted in their budget resolution in a special provision in the first appropriations bill to reach the floor – Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.  These spending limits are “deemed” to operate in lieu of a completed budget resolution.

The Senate will have to “deem” its own set of spending allocations, which, if they follow their own budget, will be higher than the House’s.  Resolving the differences between the two will be difficult, and will provide advocates an important opportunity to fight against service cuts.

For more details about the House budget resolution as originally drafted, see the May 5 HNR.  For more about the Senate budget resolution, see the March 7 edition.

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