Last week, Capitol Hill was quiet. Members of Congress were at home during the Memorial Day Recess, and it seems staff seized the opportunity for a brief respite as well. Shortly before adjourning for the Memorial Day recess, the Senate approved a two-part supplemental spending package that included $165 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also incorporated funding for increased veterans' benefits and an extension of unemployment insurance and other domestic spending, including: investments in a new education entitlement for veterans; a one-year moratorium on costly Medicaid regulatory changes that are of great concern to educators and health care providers; and increases in budgets at the National Science Foundation and other agencies that fund science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and research programs. The House is expected to consider this package upon return from the district work period. Of course, the White House has said it will veto any legislation that includes unrelated domestic spending, but the Senate approved the measure with a 75-vote, veto-proof majority. Consequently, House debate and the vote count on final passage will be important to Capitol Hill and White House schemers next week.
As for FY 2009 appropriations, the House and Senate are also expected to pass a budget resolution once they return that allows for increased spending on domestic programs, including education initiatives. However, the separate spending measures that fund each agency are not expected to make much progress, nor will most of them reach the president's desk this year. Nonetheless, advocates continue to work to influence these spending plans, with the understanding that their efforts will affect final spending decisions, which are not likely to occur until early in the next presidential administration.
Elsewhere in education, the higher education community expects the conference negotiations on the Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization to move into full swing in June. The 14th HEA extender expires June 30, and given the recent news about Sen. Ted Kennedy's (D-Mass.) health, many expect him, his staff and those who respect his contribution and commitment to education policy to work hard to complete that bill sooner rather than later.