Bush, Congress Still Battling Over Education Budget

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The Department of Education’s budget for fiscal 2008 remains up in the air, after House Democrats narrowly failed to override a presidential veto of a bill that would have raised spending on health, education, and labor programs.

The House fell two votes short, with a vote of 277-141 on Nov. 15, of the two-thirds necessary to override President Bush’s veto of the education spending bill. The measure would have provided $60.7 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Education for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, a 5.6 percent increase over fiscal 2007, and 8.3 percent more than President Bush requested.

The Senate approved its version of the bill, 56-37, earlier this month, but did not consider the veto override because it failed in the House.

In rejecting the measure Nov. 13, President Bush said the bill was “44 days late and nearly $10 billion over budget, and filled with more than 2,000 earmarks,” or projects requested by individual lawmakers. “Congress needs to cut out that pork, reduce the spending, and send me a responsible measure that I can sign into law,” he said.

Congress has already extended spending for most federal programs at fiscal 2007 levels through Dec. 14. If lawmakers and the administration can’t agree on a new appropriations bill, Congress could pass a long-term extension that would support education, health, and labor programs at last year’s levels for the rest of fiscal 2008.

Urging Compromise

To avoid that outcome, some supporters of the vetoed bill urged Mr. Bush to consider meeting Congress halfway on overall federal spending. The bill would have provided about $10 billion more for education, health, and labor programs than the president requested in the budget plan he unveiled in February.

“In times past, people in this body of good faith have overcome differences far greater than we have tonight,” Rep. James T. Walsh of New York, the top Republican on the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees education spending, said Nov. 15. “If the proposal is to split the difference, … I would advise the president to take yes for an answer.”

Rep. Walsh was one of 51 Republicans who voted to override the veto. All 226 House Democrats who voted supported an override.

Education lobbyists voiced dismay at the House’s narrow failure on the override attempt.

“We had hoped it would be possible for [more members of] Congress to stick to their guns,” said Mary Kusler, the assistant director for government relations for the American Association of School Administrators, based in Arlington, Va. “I think there’ll be some sort of compromise between the president’s and Congress’ plans.”

But she predicted that lawmakers and the administration would not necessarily split the difference between Congress’ levels and the administration’s request for every Education Department program. Instead, a compromise bill might be closer to Congress’ level on some items, and closer to the president’s proposal on others, she said.

Mr. Bush had requested $13.9 billion for Title I grants to school districts, while the bill contained $14.3 billion. The program received $12.8 billion in fiscal 2007.

The president asked for $10.5 billion for grants to states for special education, about a 2.7 percent cut from 2007 levels. Congress’ 2008 spending bill called for $11.3 billion, a 4.6 percent increase.

Congress and the administration are even farther apart on other education programs, such as grants to districts under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities program. The program received $346.5 million in fiscal 2007; Mr. Bush requested just $100 million for the grants for this year. Congress appropriated $300 million under the rejected spending bill.

Vol. 27, Issue 13, Page 19

Published in Print: November 28, 2007, as Bush, Congress Still Battling Over Education Budget
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