CHN: The House Passes a Budget

House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-SC) had a challenge.  Could he craft a budget that would hold the support of a majority?  In a word – yes.  The House voted 216 to 210 on March 29 to pass a budget resolution that increases domestic appropriations by more than $12 billion above this year’s spending, after taking inflation into account.  The budget also requires that new tax cuts or entitlement increases are paid for – either by raising revenues or cutting spending.  The budget allows for expansions or improvements in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and Food Stamps, and signals support for restoring funds for the collection of child support.
Now that both House and Senate have completed work on their budget resolutions, it is clear that a number of provisions in the House version are preferable for human needs advocates.  One important distinction is the funding for annually appropriated (“discretionary”) domestic programs.  The House provides about $5 billion more than the Senate budget for FY 2008.  Annually appropriated domestic programs include education, housing, public health and rehabilitation, Head Start, child care, job training, food packages for the needy, young and old, mental health and substance abuse treatment, protecting children from abuse or neglect, certain veterans services, and much more.  Both the House and Senate resolutions fall well short of the need for these programs, many of which have been significantly eroded over the last several years.  Advocates have sought $450 billion for these domestic programs, enough to make up for losses sustained since 2005 and allow up to about 4 percent beyond that to address additional unmet needs.  The House budget provides just under $418 billion for comparable programs; the Senate about $413 billion.  (The President’s budget, at about $395 billion, was at least $10 billion less than the amount needed just to keep pace with inflation.)  The additional funding approved by the House leaves room for more services.  The budget assumes an inflation increase for annually appropriated child care (after years of frozen funding) and about $1 billion in new funding to meet the needs of survivors of Hurricane Katrina.  Like the Senate budget, it rejects the President’s cuts (preventing losses in education and community services, for example).

The House budget left open the door for extending some of the tax cuts approved since 2001 (now slated to expire after 2010), but included pay-as-you-go rules that would make it far more likely that any lost revenue would be replaced.  The Senate’s budget wound up including provisions that would make it easier to pass inequitable tax cuts with borrowed money, thus shrinking the pool of revenues needed for vital services.  (See the article about the Senate budget in this issue.)

The House established a $50 billion reserve fund to allow for extending SCHIP to all eligible children, as did the Senate.  The means of paying for this increase must be resolved later.  The House left more room for reauthorizing the farm bill, and with it, the Food Stamp Program, than the Senate did.  The House budget resolution includes a $20 billion reserve fund for this purpose ($5 billion more than the Senate’s), and provides a signal that improvements in Food Stamps should be a priority.  The resolution includes Sense of the House language in favor of maintaining and building upon efforts to fight hunger (Section 506).  Advocates will use every opportunity to remind Congress of this language as farm bill negotiators try to accommodate the interests of agriculture, conservation, energy production, and nutrition.

One of the few bipartisan efforts of the House budget resolution was the addition in the Budget Committee of another Sense of the House provision seeking restoration of funds to collect child support that had been cut last year.  The language (Section 512) was co-sponsored by ranking member Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) and remained in the resolution passed by the House.  Another Sense of the House provision about veterans’ cemeteries was an opportunity for bipartisanship, but that was about it.  Not one Republican voted for the Spratt budget.

The House considered three substitute budget resolutions before getting to the Budget Committee’s plan.  None had any chance of passing, but were of note in laying out their proponents’ priorities.  The Congressional Black Caucus offered a substitute that added funding for domestic priorities beyond the Spratt budget, including $29 billion more for education, training and employment, and $16 billion more for health programs.  They added $10 billion more to SCHIP than the Budget Committee’s plan.  They maintain the same funding for the military, and increase revenues by $319 billion by repealing tax cuts for those with high incomes.  The Congressional Black Caucus budget, sponsored by Caucus Chair Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-MI), received 115 votes, with 312 voting against. The Congressional Progressive Caucus, co-chaired by Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced a substitute that reduces military spending by $86 billion below all the other proposals, assuming U.S. withdrawal from Iraq by the end of this year.  It provided about $450 billion for domestic appropriations, and ended tax cuts for the top one percent (estimated to save $348 billion).  This substitute provided more funding for SCHIP than the other alternatives, and provided more for rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.  It received 81 votes – the total held down by trepidation about the military cuts.  The Republican party substitute was offered by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), ranking member of the House Budget Committee.  It froze discretionary spending, resulting in cuts below inflation, and slashed entitlement funding by $279 billion over 5 years (the President’s budget cut entitlements by $50 billion).  This approach was so extreme that while 160 Republicans voted for it, 40 voted no.  Only 12 Democrats opposed their leadership’s bill.

Advocates are now gearing up to support the provisions in the House and Senate budgets that most closely reflect the needs of the people they serve.

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