CHN: Senate Works Toward Completion of 2003 Appropriations

Anti-Poverty Programs to Receive Significant Cuts
The fiscal year 2003 appropriations process came to a halt last year just prior to the 2002 Congressional elections, leaving all eleven non-defense spending bills unfinished. The stalemate was the result of partisan divisions over spending levels and internal Republican disagreement over how closely to stick to the $749 billion spending limit set by President Bush for total discretionary spending. With a majority now in the 108th Congress, Republican Senators have vowed to pass the FY 03 omnibus appropriations bill as quickly as possible, hoping to prove that GOP control of Congress can overcome the partisan wrangling that led to last year’s spending gridlock.

On January 15, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) introduced the Republican-drafted $386 billion omnibus FY 03 appropriations bill and inserted it into the House-passed omnibus vehicle (HJ Res 2). The omnibus bill includes over $9 billion in cuts to the 11 domestic measures approved unanimously last year by the Senate Appropriations Committee when it was under Democratic control. Programs under the Labor, Health, and Human Services and Education Department (Labor-HHS) and Department of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development (VA-HUD) would receive the most significant cuts under the Republican bill.

In FY 02, Labor-HHS received $124.7 billion in discretionary funds. For FY 03 the Administration requested $131 billion, the Senate allocated $134.1 billion, and the House allocated $130.9. According Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), Senate Appropriators will likely settle on $131.4 billion, $2.7 billion less than last year’s agreed upon levels. Programs under Labor-HHS to receive the biggest cuts are Title I funding for low-income students, class size reduction programs, Head Start, special education funding for local school districts, and bilingual education programs. VA-HUD is slated by GOP appropriators to receive slightly more than $1 billion in cuts, reducing discretionary spending levels to $90.35 billion.

A day after debate started on the omnibus bill, Republicans felt pressured to add $5 billion in funds for no-strings-attached grants to local school districts. To offset these additional costs, GOP senators promised to make across-the-board cuts to all other non-defense discretionary programs. These cuts – totaling about 1.3% – would come on top of a 1.6% cut on all domestic spending already included in the package to offset the costs of election overhaul activities, Medicare adjustments, and drought relief.

In response to Republican domestic spending cuts, Democrats have prepared a series of amendments aimed at restoring spending levels to those approved by last year’s Democratic controlled Appropriations Committee. Among the Democratic amendments are a $6 billion boost to programs that fall under the recent rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as the No Child Left Behind Act (PL 107-108), increased funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), and a $1.7 billion boost to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

Under pressure from the White House to complete the overdue appropriations package before the President’s State of the Union Address on January 28, Senate appropriators agreed to bypass a committee markup and take the bill straight to the floor, hoping to go to conference with the House on the measure soon. At press time, Senate debate on the omnibus measure had not yet been completed.

Budget and Appropriations