Budget Maneuver Provides Boosts for Health, Education Programs

2018-07-12 | , CQ Roll Call

July 12, 2018 - House appropriators on Wednesday added about $200 million for programs ranging from school safety initiatives to substance abuse treatment during debate on a $177.1 billion measure funding the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education next year. 


The so-called manager's package, adopted by voice vote early on in the 13-hour House Appropriations markup, was striking because it didn't contain any obvious offsets for the new funding. Coming up with "pay-fors" would ordinarily be of paramount importance to remain within the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee's spending allocation, part of an overall $597 billion fiscal 2019 nondefense budget cap mandated under a law (PL 115-123) signed in February.


According to committee aides, the original draft bill was actually $200 million below the amount it was allowed to spend for “advance appropriations” for fiscal 2020. Advance appropriations are typically employed for certain education programs, such as grants to states and localities to fund education for disabled and low-income children, since the school year typically straddles two fiscal years.


The fiscal 2018 budget resolution (H Con Res 71) set limits on the use of advance appropriations for discretionary spending in two categories — veterans programs and all others — with the non-VA cap set at $28.85 billion. All but $4.4 billion of that figure is included in the Labor-HHS-Education bill, mostly for education programs along with small pieces for job training and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The remainder is set aside for rental assistance programs in the Transportation-HUD measure (HR 6072). 


The original draft House Labor-HHS-Education bill contained $3.91 billion for special education programs, which aid some 6.7 million students with disabilities, to be spent between July 1, 2019, and Sept. 30, 2020. The amendment reduced that amount by $200 million — freeing it to be distributed elsewhere. But the committee wasn’t technically cutting special education: in exchange, the extra $200 million would be added to an existing $9.28 billion the bill would provide for the period between Oct. 1, 2019, and Sept. 30, 2020.


So thanks to this bit of budget legerdemain, other popular bipartisan programs saw increases. If the House bill becomes law, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would get an extra $72 million, including $6 million for new maternal and child health programs, $5 million for a national neurological conditions surveillance system and $5 million for environmental health.  


The amendment also restored funding for programs related to school safety, a proposal that drew criticism when the draft was originally released. Instead of being eliminated, a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration program known as “Project AWARE” would be funded at its fiscal 2018 level of $71 million. So would an Education Department program aimed at fostering safe school environments, which is now slated to get $90 million instead of the $43 million originally proposed.


The committee approved the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill on a 30-22 party line vote late Wednesday. 


'Tough Decisions'
The increases are striking considering that during Wednesday's 13-hour markup of the $177.1 billion measure, Republican leaders repeatedly had to recommend voting against amendments that had a cost. In several instances, House Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., expressed his support for programs but said he just didn’t have the money.


“I frankly support the work of increasing diversity in health care professions and I look forward to working with the gentle lady as we move forward through the process,” Cole told Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., after she offered an amendment that would have cost $14 million.


“Right now I simply don’t have the resources to do that,” Cole said, adding that the budget agreement required “making some tough decisions.”


The manager's amendment had some other unusual characteristics. It appeared initially to propose a half-billion dollar funding cut to the National Institutes of Health, including a $400 million decrease to the National Cancer Institute.


Given that lawmakers had frequently touted a $1.25 billion funding increase to the NIH for fiscal 2019 in the underlying House bill, that seemed like an unthinkable move. And it was: as several sharp-eyed CQ readers pointed out, the amendment reduced the funding for several areas within NIH because the original version of the bill had drafting errors.


NIH funding provided as part of the “21st Century Cures” act in 2016 (PL 114-255) had accidentally been counted twice, but the overall NIH funding level of $38.3 billion remained whole throughout Wednesday's markup. The manager's amendment simply aligned the NIH numbers in the bill text with those in the explanatory report provided by the committee.


The page for the draft House fiscal 2019 Labor-HHS-Education spending bill is available here.

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