Congress has passed a budget blueprint that strips out more than $5 billion in extra education spending Democrats had inserted in the original Senate version in March.
Still, the final plan would add $1 billion above President Bush’s fiscal 2006 budget request for the Department of Education. The president wants to trim the agency’s discretionary budget by 1 percent.
The House narrowly approved the $2.6 billion budget plan on April 28 by a largely party-line vote of 214-211. Later the same day, the Senate passed it 52-47, with no Democrat voting in favor.
Democrats were quick to blast the deal.
“[T]he congressional Republican leadership wants to roll over for the president,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said in a statement, just after the budget deal was announced on April 28. “This budget’s education cuts weaken America and are a disaster for American families.”
But Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the chairman of the Budget Committee, defended the package.
“The essence of this budget comes down to whether we’re going to stick our children and grandchildren with a government they can’t afford,” he said in a statement. “This budget takes a modest but important first step toward entitlement reform, cuts the short-term deficit in half, puts important tools in place so Congress can enforce spending discipline, and improves transparency and good budget practices.”
During floor debate in March on its original resolution, the Senate narrowly backed an amendment by Sen. Kennedy that would have added $5.4 billion in spending to the budget plan to restore some of the White House’s proposed reductions to college aid and vocational education, among other items. Six Republicans joined with all Senate Democrats in passing the amendment, 51-49.
With Republicans holding majorities in both chambers, however, the amendment was dropped from the compromise worked out between GOP leaders in the House and Senate.
The budget resolution guides congressional tax and spending decisions but is by no means the last word on federal education aid for fiscal 2006.
Cuts to Loan Programs
It sets an overall limit on spending and sends a signal of Capitol Hill’s priorities, but lawmakers in separate appropriations legislation will spell out funding levels for individual agencies and programs.
In the budget request President Bush announced in February, he proposed for the first time in a decade to cut overall Department of Education spending. His budget for fiscal 2006, which begins Oct. 1, would lower the agency’s discretionary budget by $530 million, or nearly 1 percent, to $56 billion. The plan envisions abolishing 48 programs in the department. (“Cuts Proposed in Bush Budget Hit Education,” Feb. 16, 2005.)
But, in the conference agreement that accompanied the final budget, Congress assumes that the Education Department budget would climb by $1 billion over the president’s request, with part of that money aimed at accommodating a $100 increase in the maximum Pell Grant award in fiscal 2006.
The original House resolution had no specific numbers for education. It set the broader budget category for education, health, and labor programs at the same amount as Mr. Bush’s request. The Senate version initially seemed generally to track the president’s plans as well. But with Sen. Kennedy’s amendment, the resolution would have lifted the overall federal discretionary ceiling by $5.4 billion.
A few other amendments to boost education spending were also added during Senate debate in March, but they all required unspecified cuts elsewhere in the budget, making them mostly symbolic requests.
By contrast, Sen. Kennedy’s amendment would have made more federal dollars available. The Senate’s discretionary ceiling was nearly $6 billion higher than the ceiling adopted by the House. The final discretionary cap is set back at the original House level of $893 billion.
So, while Republicans have built in an extra $1 billion above the president’s request for education, Congress would have to cut elsewhere from the budget to make room for the increase.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy criticizes the budget resolution’s removal of extra education aid he proposed. Sen. Judd Gregg says the agreement is a sign of spending discipline.