CHN: The Old Congress Cuts and Runs
Refusal to Pass Spending Bills Leads to Temporary Extensions to February 15
Despite mounting pressures to finalize appropriations for the current fiscal year, the old majority was too divided, forcing the enactment of a third temporary spending bill, this one through February 15 (PL 109-383). Once again, the stopgap measure set funding at the lowest of either House- or Senate-passed appropriations bills or FY 2006 spending. No projects favored by individual members of Congress were included. By limiting spending to the lowest alternative and eliminating earmarks, the annual rate of spending would be at least $7 billion below the appropriations cap approved by Congress earlier this year ($873 billion). Right wing members of Congress were content to see spending so low, and threw up roadblocks to prevent completion of any of the remaining appropriations bills, including one that included funding for veterans’ services. With increasing numbers of wounded veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, veterans were calling for a $3 billion increase in veterans’ health funds. Because the most conservative senators opposed moving forward on any bill that might be amended to add earmarks or other funding beyond the President’s original request, the old Congress gave up and tossed the final decisions to their successors in January. The temporary spending bill did not add new money for veterans’ health, but allowed the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to transfer up to $684 million of its funds to veterans’ health services.
Because of the difficulties of working on appropriations bills for the current year and for FY 2008 at the same time, the incoming Appropriations Committee chairs announced that they would not try to enact separate FY 2007 spending bills when the 110th Congress gets started in January. Senator Byrd (D-WV) and Representative Obey (D-WI) said that they would engineer a Joint Resolution to extend FY 2006 funding levels for the rest of FY 2007, but would modify that to correct significant shortfalls created by flat funding. They expect to add back approximately $7 billion in funding so that total appropriations will reach the $873 billion cap. They would continue to leave out earmarks. Federal agencies are asked to let the appropriators know of severe problems that must be addressed, such as shortfalls that would lead to furloughed workers. The Social Security Administration has already announced that its funding must be increased to avoid shutting down offices for a period in the spring. Additional funds are also likely for veterans’ services.
Many other services will suffer if their funding is limited to FY 2006 levels. Rental vouchers would be faced with a $1 billion shortfall, leading to the loss of thousands of vouchers, on top of 130,000 that have been lost to low-income households since 2004. Stuck at the FY2006 funding level, Head Start would serve 19,000 fewer children and another 11,000 fewer children would receive affordable child care. Currently, 250,000 fewer children are receiving child care assistance than in 2000. It is not clear what criteria the new appropriators will use to raise funding above the FY 2006 level. Staying within the $873 billion cap does not give them enough to meet all the needs. Advocates should gear up to make a strong case for programs serving low-income people to avoid loss of services for the rest of FY 2006.