Monday, June 16, 2008

Budget and Appropriations

Consideration of funding bills for fiscal year 2009 went into full swing on Capitol Hill last week. Although the full Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate are not scheduled to meet to divide up the kitty, almost $1 trillion for domestic discretionary programs, several subcommittees got to work in the House and completed four mark-ups, based on preliminary conversations with the committee leadership.

The House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee approved on a party line vote a bill that will provide $27.9 billion for the Interior Department and EPA programs, which is approximately 5 percent over last year. Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts grows by $15 million to $160 million, with identical funding provided for the National Endowment for the Humanities. When the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science met it provided a $1.7 billion increase in funding for programs supporting science, technology and innovation. For the National Science Foundation that translates to $6.9 billion, up from $6.06 in FY 2008. $17.8 billion was allotted for NASA and $785 million for NIST.

On June 19, the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) and Education will meet to mark up a funding bill for those agencies. Although exact numbers aren't public, it is anticipated that subcommittee members will ignore the program eliminations called for by the president as well as with many significant proposed cuts in spending. How many programs will actually be increased is not known, but staff members are doing their best to lower expectations in what is considered to be an austere budget climate.

The Senate LHHS and Education Subcommittee will meet on June 24 to consider its spending plan. The full Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate will probably also act that week to adopt LHHS and Education spending plans. Taking the bills to the floor for a vote, however, remains a long shot. The leadership is not interested in an extended debate with the president, who has already made it known that he will veto anything that allocates more funding than he requested. The LHHS bill in both Houses is certain to exceed his request by as much as $10 billion, making a presidential veto a sure thing.

While appropriators got to work on their FY 2009 plans, the House and Senate remained tied up in knots over what to do about the emergency supplemental spending bill. Funding for the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are top priorities, so that portion of the measure will surely be agreed to before the July 4 recess. What is in question is whether and how much domestic emergency funding will be included in the bill. The Senate is insisting on new GI Education benefits and funds to extend unemployment insurance payments along with funds to pay for a moratorium on controversial new Medicaid rules. In the House, there was an effort to move a stand-alone unemployment benefits bill that finally passed but with barely enough votes to override an anticipated veto. What happens when the stand-alone bill reaches the Senate is anyone's guess. What we can be sure about is that the final budget decisions regarding education spending for FY 2009 will be postponed through a continuing resolution and handed off to the new president just as soon as he takes office.

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