Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Budget and Appropriations

First there were two bills, then they came together as one, then they were split in two again. As of last week, the FY 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (LHHS-Ed) Appropriations bill has been approved by the House and Senate and is headed for President Bush's desk and, presumably, his veto pen. Democratic leadership tried to combine the largest domestic spending bill (LHHS-Ed) with military construction and veterans spending, with the goal of forcing the president to decide whether to veto the whole bill, including the funds for veterans and military construction he wants, or sign it and approve spending that exceeds his budget request for domestic programs by $9.8 billion. For many weeks, the president has said he will veto any spending bill that exceeds the funding levels he proposed in his FY 2008 budget request, submitted to Congress in February.

The House approved the combined appropriations bills by a vote of 269 to 142, with 47 Republicans voting in favor of the bill. When the legislation was sent over to the Senate for consideration, however, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) raised a point of order against the bill that required separating the two measures - a move Democrats were unable to stop. The separated LHHS-Ed appropriations bill was then passed by the Senate on Wednesday night by a vote of 56 to 37, with seven senators not voting. Ten Republicans supported the bill, which then had to go back to the House in its new form. Late Thursday, the House approved the bill by a vote of 274 to 141, with 51 Republicans voting with the Democrats in favor of the bill. Democrats are now deciding when and how they will enroll the final bill and send it to the president.

For those who desperately want this bill to be signed into law, the quest for securing enough votes to override the expected veto is a daunting endeavor, with admittedly small prospects for success. House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said publicly this week that if the veto is not reversed by Congress, and the White House refuses to negotiate, there's not "a chance of a snowball in Hades that members' earmarks on either side of the aisle will survive if we wind up at the president's level of funding." Democratic strategists are already looking toward putting together an omnibus bill to fund much of the federal government for FY 2008, vs. a long-term continuing resolution. This is a better outcome for authorized education and domestic programs that would likely see level funding, again, in a long-term FY 2008 CR. An omnibus bill implies opportunities for programs to retain some of the proposed increases.

While the LHHS-Ed bill is by far the most important spending proposal to education stakeholders, the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill also invests in important science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education efforts, as well as research initiatives. That bill is also subject to a veto threat and is currently waiting for conference negotiations and could be brought to a vote in each chamber this week.


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