NAICU Washington Update

Bipartisan Education Spending Bill Ready for Floor

July 18, 2007

The full House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the FY 2008 Labor-HHS-Education spending bill on Wednesday, July 18. While the bill carries a veto threat because it spends above the president's request, the importance of the programs funded in this bill for education, health and workforce development - and now the inclusion of members' projects - could sway many members on the fence to vote in favor of the bill. A vote of 290 in favor of the bill would avoid a veto battle this fall.

For student aid, the education appropriations bill represents the high water mark for FY 2008, and NAICU is asking all representatives to vote for the bill. The House bill invests $2 billion in the Pell Grant program to increase the maximum grant by $390, to $4,700. It also rejects the president's cuts to SEOG and LEAP; and increases funding for TRIO and GEAR UP. And the bill includes language prohibiting the Department of Education from issuing regulations on college and university accreditation - which the Department lacks sufficient authorization to regulate.

The House Appropriations Committee approved the bill by a voice vote, with no audible dissenters, on July 11. Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) noted during the mark up that there were no amendments from either party to cut funding from any program, only amendments to add money to programs, so "it must not be an excessive bill."

Ranking Member Jerry Lewis (R-Cal.) cautioned the committee that because the bill spends $10 billion more than the president's budget, it has become "veto bait." However, he did not go as far as opposing the bill.

A highlight of the mark up was the description by Obey of the "member-directed projects" - also known as earmarks - that were now included in the bill. Obey's original plan was to review all member requests over the August recess, and then add them to the bill in conference with the Senate. But because of a floor fight over the Homeland Security bill and earmarks, he and the staff did the project review in two weeks, instead of a month. The committee received 3,400 requests for earmarks in the bill, he said, and that all were reviewed by Democratic and Republican members and the appropriate agencies. He reported that the number of earmarks finally included in the bill is 50 percent less than last year.