WASHINGTON -- Weary of the yearly battles with President Bush over federal spending practices, Congressional Democrats made a tactical decision last fall to dodge the lame duck commander in chief's threat to veto any budget exceeding his spending limits by postponing consideration of the fiscal 2009 budget until after November's election. The thinking in approving a placeholder budget through this month was that a new administration -- they weren't banking on a McCain victory -- would view additional spending on key social programs more favorably.
They almost certainly didn't count on the fact that the world economy would take a dive and that the federal government would find itself pouring about one and a half trillion dollars (that looks like this: $1,500,000,000,000) into two pieces of emergency legislation designed to rescue the financial markets and stimulate the ailing economy. But that doesn't appear to be dissuading Democrats in Congress from loosening the purse strings yet more to fund the government's operations in the 2009 fiscal year that is now under way.
On Monday, three days before President Obama prepares to release his administration's budget for the 2010 fiscal year -- and, Republicans noted with some irony, on the day the president held a "fiscal responsibility" summit at the White House -- the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee released an omnibus budget measure designed to finance the dozens of federal agencies whose 2009 budgets were not approved in the last Congress. True to Democratic rhetoric heard throughout the Bush years, the legislation would provide significant new funds to many domestic programs.
"Last year, President Bush refused to work with Congress to come up with a compromise to finish these nine bills, instead insisting on unacceptable cuts to energy research, health care, education, law enforcement and biomedical research," Rep. David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who heads the House Appropriations Committee, said in a news release Monday. "Congress rejected these devastating cuts, and today presents a bill that will keep the government running and finish last year’s business. This bill works in harmony with the economic recovery package, making investments that address the country’s immediate needs while investing in our long term economic strength."
Much of that spending is directed toward programs important to higher education.
For instance, the legislation would provide an extra $347 million in funds for the Pell Grant Program for low-income students, an increase paid for in large part by taking money that the Bush administration proposed directing toward the Academic Competitiveness and Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant Programs that have gone underutilized by colleges.
The House legislation would also increase spending for the GEAR Up and TRIO programs that help low-income students prepare for college, and sustain and even slightly increase funds for the Perkins Loan Program, which, along with the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant Program, was under consistent attack by the Bush administration.
The House measure would also provide significantly more funds than most science agencies received in the 2008 fiscal year, but less in many cases than the Bush administration proposed spending. The exception was for the National Institutes of Health, which would get just over $30 billion in 2009, nearly $940 million more than the biomedical research agency received in 2008 and almost $1.1 billion more than the Bush White House requested.
The new spending would allow for more than 10,500 new research grants, the House panel said.
As is required under new Congressional rules, the detailed legislation also contains lists of all the projects earmarked directly by individual lawmakers to specific recipients that are in the bill. Many colleges are among them.
The interaction of the House panel's proposed new spending, on the heels of the mammoth economic stimulus package that Congress passed (mostly along partly lines) and President Obama signed last week, reignited the traditional Republican criticism of Democratic lawmakers as irresponsible free spenders. "Back to the Future: Capitol Hill Dems Call for Largest Discretionary Spending Hike Since Carter Administration," read the headline of a House Republican news release.
The table below offers details on how students and colleges might benefit from that generosity:
Education and Other Programs in House 2009 Spending Plan
|President Bush's 2009 Request (000s)||House Omnibus Bill for 2009 (000s)|
|Pell Grants (discretionary)||$14,215,000||$16,941,000||$17,288,000|
|Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants||757,465||0||757,465|
|Perkins Loan cancellations||64,327||0||67,164|
|Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnerships||63,852||0||63,852|
|Academic Competitiveness /SMART Grants||395,000||960,000||0|
|Strengthening Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities||23,158||0||23,158|
|Strengthening Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian Institutions||11,579||0||11,579|
|Strengthening Historically Black Colleges and Universities||238,095||238,095||238,095|
|Strengthening Historically Black Graduate Institutions||56,903||56,903||58,500|
|Minority Science and Engineering Improvement||8,577||8,577||8,577|
|Developing Hispanic Serving Institutions||93,256||74,442||93,256|
|Strengthening Asian American and Pacific Islander-serving Institutions||5,000||5,000||2,500|
|Tribally Controlled Postsecondary Voc-Tech Institutions||7,546||0||7,773|
|National Technical Institute for the Deaf|| 59,695|| |
|International education/foreign language||108,983||109,983||118,881|
|Advancing America Through Foreign Language Partnerships||n/a||24,000||0|
|Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education||120,333||37,433||133,667|
|Demonstration Projects to Ensure Access for Students With Disabilities||6,755||0||6,755|
|Teacher Quality Enhancement Grants||33,662||0||50,000|
|Vocational and adult education|
|Dislocated Worker Assistance||1,183,840|| 942,956||1,183,840|
|Adult Education|| 554,122|| 554,122|| |
|Child Care Access Program||15,534||15,534||16,034|
|Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need||29,542||32,517||31,030|
|Thurgood Marshall Legal Educational Opportunity Program||2,895||0||3,000|
|Other Education Department offices|
|Research and statistics||546,105||658,247||617,175|
|Office for Civil Rights||89,612||101,040||96,826|
Science Spending in the House 2009 Budget Plan
|Agency||2008 Appropriations (000s)||President Bush's 2009 Request (000s)||House Omnibus Bill for 2009 (000s)|
|National Institutes of Health||$29,379,524||$29,229,524||$30,317,024|
|Energy Department Office of Science||$4,017,711||$4,721,989||$4,772,838|
|National Institute of Standards and Technology research and services||$440,517||$535,000||$472,000|
|National Science Foundation||$6,127,500||$6,854,100||$6,490,400|