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The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee this week told Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings that if President Bush isn’t open to a compromise on education spending, Democratic leaders are willing to wait for a new president to take office who might be more disposed to supporting their priorities.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said the president’s proposed $59.2 billion budget request for the Department of Education, which would freeze the agency’s bottom line at fiscal year 2008 levels, was inadequate to help schools finance special education and meet the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act. They also blasted the proposed elimination of some programs, particularly the $1.2 billion Career and Technical Education state grants.
Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., who leads the committee and is chairman of the subcommittee that oversees education spending, asked Secretary Spellings whether President Bush would be willing to compromise on a spending measure that addresses those issues.
“Does [the administration] want us to work things out or do they want us to wait until a new president takes office?” Rep. Obey said at a Feb. 26 hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies.
Ms. Spellings said she hoped Congress and the Bush administration could reach an agreement on fiscal 2009 appropriations before President Bush’s term is over.
In December, Congress and the administration wrapped up a protracted budget battle for fiscal 2008, which began Oct. 1. Lawmakers initially approved $60.7 billion in discretionary spending for the Education Department in the current fiscal year, a 5.6 percent increase over fiscal 2007. But President Bush vetoed that bill.
Democratic leaders in Congress sought to override the veto in November, but fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed. The $59.2 billion budget for education was the result of a compromise late in the session.
Rep. Obey’s statement echoed remarks by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate majority leader, who this month said lawmakers might simply wait until President Bush leaves office to finalize some appropriations bills. (“Democrats Aim to Resist Bush Budget,” Feb. 13, 2008.)
If the president does veto another domestic-spending bill, some Appropriations Committee Republicans indicated they would be willing to support an override.
Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., bemoaned the “cumulative effect” of level funding for impact aid, which provides funding to school districts that educate children living on federal lands, and rural education on his American Indian constituents.
“The tribal schools in my state, the tribal colleges in my state, [say] the administration just doesn’t get it,” Rep. Rehberg said. “That’s why I voted to override the president’s veto and will do it again. As a Republican.”
Secretary Spellings urged lawmakers to restore funding for the controversial Reading First program. Congress slashed the program, which had been financed at just more than $1 billion a year for several years, to $393 million in fiscal 2008, a 61 percent decrease. A series of highly critical reports by the Education Department’s inspector general found favoritism for certain textbook publishers and other management problems in the program’s early years. (“Massive Funding Cuts to ‘Reading First’ Generate Worries for Struggling Schools,” Jan. 16, 2008.)
“The department has worked hard to address previous problems and improve the management of Reading First,” the secretary told the subcommittee.
But Rep. Obey appeared unmoved.
“The department’s own actions on Reading First caused the reduction of those funds,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in the March 05, 2008 edition of Education Week as Bush Education Budget Inadequate, Spellings is Told