CHN: Senate Approves Labor-HHS-Education Spending Bill
By a vote of 94 to 3 the Senate approved a bill to fund the Departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services on Thursday, October 27. The bill provides a total of $142.5 billion in discretionary (annually appropriated) funding for such wide-ranging programs as K-12 education, education for children with disabilities, child care, community health centers, Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP), and workforce training.
The discretionary level for fiscal 2006 is $164 million (0.1 percent) less than for fiscal 2005. In June the House passed its Labor-HHS spending bill, which also provided $142.5 billion in discretionary spending.
Several amendments were offered on the floor of the Senate to increase funding for services for low-income families, but the amendments failed.
Many services aimed at low-income families will receive the same or less funding as last fiscal year. Due to inflation and a series of across-the-board cuts in the last several years, many programs are funded at levels far below their 1990s’ levels.
Senators rejected several amendments that would have boosted spending for programs serving low-income individuals. An amendment sponsored by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) to increase spending for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) by $2.9 billion (bringing funding up to $5.1 billion) was defeated 54 to 43. The LIHEAP Coalition predicts dramatic increases in home heating expenses this winter.
Senators also defeated a proposal by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) to add an additional $5 billion to Title I, which provides federal funds to low-income schools. The No Child Left Behind Act authorized Congress to provide $22.8 billion to Title I programs in fiscal 2006 – but the bill approved Thursday provides just $12.8 billion.
Funding for Head Start is $6.9 billion in the Senate bill, an increase of just $31 million over fiscal 2005 and not enough to cover inflation. The Senate defeated an amendment sponsored by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) that would have boosted Head Start funding by an additional $153 million.
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) offered an amendment to increase spending on education for children with disabilities by $4 billion. The Senate’s bill provides $10.7 billion for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act , $100 million more than last year but far below the amount promised in the legislation authorizing the program.
By voice vote the Senate approved an amendment offered by Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) increasing funding to community health centers by $198.5 million. The Senate also accepted an amendment to increase spending to develop an avian flu vaccine.
The total discretionary level of the bill would have been $3 billion higher were it not for some accounting maneuvers by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA). The Senator shifted mandatory Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments by a few days from fiscal 2006 to fiscal 2007. Advocates for the poor elderly and disabled who depend on SSI caution that recipients depend on receiving their benefits on a timetable and may not be able to easily adjust to a late benefit check. Sen. Specter used this same accounting measure last year, but it did not survive conference with the House.
A conference committee with the House is the next step for the bill. Conservatives in the House have been clamoring for across-the-board cuts that will affect all discretionary spending, including programs funded in this bill. Currently only three of twelve fiscal 2006 appropriations bills have been signed into law; most federal agencies are operating under a continuing resolution that is due to expire November 18.