Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Budget and Appropriations

Now that Congress has had a few weeks to digest the president's FY 2009 budget proposal, the process of developing a response appears well underway. As was reported in the press, many Democrats, upon reviewing the document, simply uttered "dead on arrival" or issued press releases highly critical of the president's emphasis on defense and lack of focus on pressing domestic priorities in education, healthcare and the workforce. Agency heads have started to appear before the Budget and Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate to defend the administration's priorities and have weathered tough questioning. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings will appear before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education on Feb. 26 and before the same Senate panel on April 16. Given the strong negative statements about the president's proposed Department of Education budget from Appropriations chairmen David Obey (D-Wis.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the hearings are likely to be lively.

While the Budget and Appropriations committees readied themselves for public review of the president's plan, minority party leaders in the House and Senate continued their tirades against earmarking federal funds. A Republican working group to review the earmarking process has been established in the Senate, with participation from Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). They have a few more weeks to come up with suggested revisions to the process. As a Republican proposal, it is not clear what, if any, impact their advice will have on the majority. In the House of Representatives, a Web site was launched revealing exactly how much in earmarked funds every member has requested. Press stories were abundant this week about the lion's share of earmarked funds secured by Appropriations Committee members in Congress, again emphasizing the "unfairness" of the process of distributing these dollars. President Bush continued to talk about the Executive Order he sent to the Office of Management and Budget and agency heads, directing them to ignore earmarks found in reports accompanying legislation rather than the legislation itself because the language "lacks the force of law." It is a conversation that that will likely continue until the November election, as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the near-certain Republican candidate for president has never supported an earmark for his state and Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barrack Obama (D-Ill.), one of whom will be the Democratic choice, strongly support the process.


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