Monday, March 12, 2007

Budget and Appropriations

Budget and Appropriations

Congress got back to work last week picking right up where it had left off arguing about the appropriate Congressional response to the President’s request for emergency funding to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By week’s end, Democrats had moved a bit closer to a compromise position, but votes on the emergency supplemental spending bill had been put off for several weeks. Republicans appeared to be united in their support for the President in his opposition to a supplemental that includes language about benchmarks and troop withdrawals and significantly more funds than he had requested.

In order to find the votes to pass the controversial supplemental bill, several financial sweeteners have been added to the pot with more anticipated. Beyond the $765 million to fully fund the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, there is now additional money for agricultural disaster relief, the Gulf Region, emergency fuel oil and wildfire suppression, putting the total amount of funding at close to $115 billion. That might still not be enough to secure the 60-vote margin that will be required for passage in the Senate.

While appropriators tried to agree on the supplemental spending bill, the Budget Committees met to work out details on spending resolutions for the FY 2008 budget. On Wednesday, March 14th the Senate Budget Committee will meet to adopt their plan, one that education advocates are optimistic will allow for significant new spending by the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Subcommittee. The House Budget Committee will not meet until the following week.

Also next week, hearings begin in the LHHS and ED Subcommittees of the Appropriations Committees in the House and the Senate on the FY 2008 budget for the Department of Education. First up in both Houses will be Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. In the House she will be asked to defend the President’s level funding request, including 44 program eliminations and some other tricky budget gimmicks that were included in the budget plan he sent to the Congress in early February. With Representative David Obey (D-WI) sitting in the Chair, it might not be as friendly a meeting as in past years for the Secretary. On Wednesday, Secretary Spellings will appear before the Senate LHHS Subcommittee, now Chaired by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). That hearing will focus on the Democratic view that the No Child Left Behind Act has been severely under-funded by the Administration, which will be a second contentious conversation.

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