House Approves Cuts to Labor Programs
Friday June 24, 2005 10:16 PM
By ANDREW TAYLOR
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Funding for job training, rural health care, low-income schools and help for people lacking health insurance would face big cuts under a bill passed Friday by the House.
The measure, which passed 250-151, contains $142.5 billion in spending under Congress' control for labor, health and education programs. That's essentially a freeze at current levels.
But new demands, including $870 million to administer the new Medicare prescription drug program, have forced cuts in scores of programs.
The cuts include the outright elimination of 48 programs whose current budgets total $1 billion. Among the programs to be eliminated is the Healthy Communities Access Program, currently funded at $83 million, which helps communities offer health care to the uninsured.
Also eliminated is the $205 million budget for an Education Department grant program targeted at low-income and underachieving schools.
Democrats said the overall bill falls far short of what's needed for education, health research, help for the poor and many other programs.
``This bill just doesn't measure up to our national obligations,'' said Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
Republicans said they had done they best they could under President Bush's tight budget for domestic programs.
``We made some tough decisions,'' said Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, who led the floor effort to get the bill passed. ``But when looked at as a whole, this bill provides $142.5 billion to over 500 discretionary programs. It is a lot of money and it does a lot of good.''
Regula added that the bill's program terminations and other cuts were used to fund high-priority items such as Pell Grants and the budget to run the Medicare drug program.
Still, a steady parade of both Republicans and Democrats came to the floor over the two-day debate seeking restoration of cuts to favored programs such as an initiative that trains doctors and nurses willing to work in underserved rural areas and inner cities. But without acceptable cuts elsewhere, most lawmakers had to settle for a promise from Regula to keep their requests in mind during negotiations with the Senate.
The cuts are the result of Bush's tight budget for federal programs outside of the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security. Congress hewed to Bush's demands when passing its budget in April and is implementing an almost 1 percent cut to domestic programs through passage of 11 spending bills.
In practice, that translates to an 84 percent cut - from $300 million down to $47 million - in training programs for doctors and nurses, and $806 million in cuts to Bush's No Child Left Behind education initiative, a more than 3 percent drop. Grants for local community-action agencies that help the poor would be cut in half, to $320 million.
The National Institutes of Health, whose budget has doubled in recent years, would be held to a less than 1 percent increase. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would absorb a 5 percent cut from current funding.
In a high-profile vote Thursday, lawmakers turned back an effort to slash federal public broadcasting subsidies by $100 million, demonstrating the enduring political strength of the Public Broadcasting Service, whose supporters rallied behind popular programs such as ``Sesame Street,'' ``Postcards From Buster'' and ``The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.''
PBS and National Public Radio benefited from a nationwide lobbying effort. But no such national constituency exists for dozens of lower-profile programs that would be cut by the measure.
On Friday, the House also voted 219-185 to go on record against a Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation agreement with United Airlines letting United dump its employee-pension plans and their $9.8 billion shortfall on the PBGC, which could mean pension cuts of 25 percent to 50 percent for more than 120,000 United workers and retirees.
United says the move is required to emerge from bankruptcy and supporters of the airline said that without the pension relief, 62,000 United employees could lose their jobs.