Education legislation took a back seat to other priorities during much of the 109th Congress, a pattern that appears likely to continue in the lame-duck session that began after Election Day.
Federal lawmakers have still not agreed on the spending bill for education, health, and labor programs for fiscal 2007, which began on Oct. 1. It’s up in the air whether Congress will complete work on the measure before adjourning for the year.
Some congressional aides say the appropriations bill covering the departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services is likely to be folded into an omnibus spending measure that would finance many departments and agencies for fiscal 2007. Others say lawmakers could simply extend the 2006 funding, leaving the new, Democratic-controlled Congress to finish the bill in January.
Both chambers’ pending bills would provide less money for the Department of Education than last fiscal year’s $57.85 billion. The House bill would fund the department at $56.15 billion, or a 2.9 percent decrease, while the Senate’s would provide $55.79 billion, or 3.6 percent decrease. The appropriations committees in both chambers have approved the bills, but they are awaiting floor action.
If the spending bill isn’t complete by the end of the session, Congress will have to approve another stopgap measure continuing 2006 funding to next year.
John Scofield, a spokesman for Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., the outgoing chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said that the chances of getting the Labor-HHS-Education spending measure passed on its own were “slim to none.”
But Margaret Wicker, a spokeswoman for Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., the outgoing chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the senator hopes to pass each spending bill individually before the 109th Congress adjourns.
One reason Congress didn’t make much headway on spending and other bills when members returned after the Nov. 7 elections is that time was taken up in choosing new leaders. As expected, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the outgoing minority leader, was unanimously selected by the House Democratic Conference as its choice for speaker of the House in the next Congress.
But Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, Ms. Pelosi’s preferred candidate for majority leader, the No. 2 slot in the Democratic leadership, lost to Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, on a 149-86 vote of members of the 110th Congress. In the Senate, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the current minority leader, was unanimously chosen as majority leader.
Although the Democrats will be in control come January, it was the Republican leadership races that may have had broader implications for education policy. In the House, Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, the current majority leader, beat Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, by a vote of 168-27, to become the minority leader for the House GOP in the next Congress.
As the chairman of House Education and the Workforce Committee until earlier this year, Rep. Boehner was a key architect of the No Child Left Behind Act, while Rep. Pence voted against the law and has disparaged its expansion of the federal role in education.
Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi edged out, on a vote of 25-24, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee for minority whip, the second-highest post for Senate Republicans. If Sen. Alexander, a former secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush, had won the post, he may have pushed the Republicans to make education legislation a higher priority.
A version of this article appeared in the November 29, 2006 edition of Education Week as Education Spending Bill Uncertain in Lame-Duck Session