Despite a veto threat from President Barack Obama, Republicans in both chambers of Congress are pushing through appropriations bills for fiscal 2016 that adhere to congressionally mandated spending caps and would cut billions of dollars from the U.S. Department of Education and eliminate a slew of federal education programs.
The Appropriations Committee in the House of Representatives passed its funding bill on a party-line vote, 30-21, on June 24. The proposal would provide $64.4 billion for the Education Department, a $2.8 billion cut from fiscal 2015, and eliminate 20 programs, including School Improvement Grants, the Preschool Development Grant, and Investing in Innovation.
A day later on the other side of the Capitol, the Appropriations Committee in the Senate passed its spending plan on a party-line vote, 16-14. The proposal would provide $65.5 billion for the Education Department, a $1.7 billion cut, and eliminate 10 programs, including Investing in Innovation and Preschool Development Grants—both major Obama administration initiatives—and Striving Readers, a literacy program.
Both bills would provide increases for a handful of programs, including bumps of more than $100 million each for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Head Start. The Senate bill would also include a $150 million increase for Title I grants for low-income students, and both bills would provide small increases for grants to support the creation of new charter schools.
During the markup process, Democrats’ pitches to increase or restore funding were outright rejected, though in the House, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the appropriations-subcommittee chairman, said he was interested in working with Democrats to find some way to increase funding for early-childhood education.
“If we had a larger allocation, this is probably the number-one place I would turn to put additional dollars,” Rep. Cole said. “I will continue to work with [Democrats] to see what we can do in this area. I do think this is money well spent, and it’s money that saves money down the line.”
It’s been more than six years since both the House and Senate appropriations committees cleared their appropriations bills, which also include funding for the departments of Health and Human Services and Labor. More than anything, lawmakers focused on the need for a budget deal that relieves them of their self-imposed across-the-board spending caps known as the sequester.
“These caps were tight,” conceded Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., the chairman of the Appropriations Committee. “I point out that that was required by the law, the Budget Control Act, and until we change that act, we have to live with what the law is.”
For the last two years, those caps have been avoided thanks to a budget deal brokered by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., back in 2013. But that deal expires at the end of this fiscal year, Sept. 30.
“First and foremost, [the Senate appropriations bill] doubles down on the automatic budget cuts that Democrats and Republicans agree are terrible policy and should have never become law,” Sen. Murray said. “That deal expires this year, and until we reach another one, each of these bills ... has no chance of becoming law.”
President Obama has vowed to veto any spending bill that locks in sequester-level funding, meaning that the current appropriations bills moving through both chambers likely won’t see the light of day. And while lawmakers on both sides of the aisle recognize that the end of the fiscal year is just a few months away, they have yet to come up with a Plan B.
“We could make the choice today to work together on a deal to remove the sequester and fund the government,” said Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee. “I do hope we can come together soon to find a solution to mindless austerity caps.”
A version of this article appeared in the July 08, 2015 edition of Education Week as House, Senate Appropriations Bills Would Cut Back Ed. Dept. Funding