Education Funding Up in the Air
Bipartisan efforts still under way to increase spending package Republicans have pushed a tardy $373 billion spending package through the U.S. House of Representatives that would increase overall funding for the U.S. Department of Education by $2.9 billion, despite conservative objections that the measure had too many hometown projects and Democratic complaints that it would hurt workers.
The 242-176 vote left the bill in the hands of the Senate, where its fate seemed uncertain. The GOP’s narrow majority there may not be enough to overcome efforts by Democrats — and perhaps some Republicans — to kill the measure when the Senate votes on it in January.
The measure includes $12.1 billion for Pell Grants — an increase of $700 million from funding in fiscal year 2003 — but the maximum Pell Grant award would remain fixed at $4,050. Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants would also see a $15 million bump up in funding, from $760 million to $775 million. Institutional-development funding for Hispanic-serving institutions would increase from $92.4 million to $94.5 million, while historically Black colleges and universities would see a $10 million increase, from $214 million to $224 million.
The vast bill would finance most of the government’s domestic programs, including 11 Cabinet-level departments and scores of other agencies for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Its 1,182 pages make detailed decisions about how nearly one-sixth of the federal budget will be spent, covering everything from education to foreign aid to the exploration of space.
It is also loaded with decisions about numerous federal policies, mostly decided in favor of President Bush’s proposals.
“Anybody who wants to find something at fault, something to complain about in this bill, they can do it” because of its size, said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla. “But I can tell you it’s the best product we could provide.”
Democrats accused the bill’s GOP authors of shortchanging schools and other programs, and bowing to administration demands for policies that lawmakers had voted against.
Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., criticized the bill in a letter to fellow Democrats.
“The bottom line is this is a bad bill,” Obey wrote.
But the bill also has plenty to offer lawmakers of both parties.
It is stocked with money for roads, hospitals and thousands of local projects worth billions of dollars. It has big increases for veterans’ health care, education for the disabled, highway construction, farm conservation and other items popular with lawmakers.
The package is an amalgam of the seven remaining spending bills for the current fiscal year. Six other spending measures have been completed.
Overall, the bill would allow spending of $820 billion this year, more than one-third of the entire $2.2 trillion budget.
Of the grand total, $373 billion is for spending that cannot occur unless Congress decides to do so, including money for transportation projects that comes from fuel taxes. The rest of the bill involves automatically covered benefits, such as Medicare and Medicaid.
— Associated Press
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