The Post-Bush Budget

Rather than fight with the ex-president, Congressional Democrats put off 2009 budget to this year. House spending plan shows why, promising new funds for education and other social programs.
February 24, 2009

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."

Rep. David Obey

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

Agency/Program 2008
Appropriation (000s)
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
Work Study 980,492 980,492 980,492
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
TEACH Grants 7,000 14,000 0
Institutional aid  
Strengthening Institutions 78,146 78,146 80,000
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
Gallaudet U. 113,384 113,384 124,000
National Technical Institute for the Deaf 59,695

Howard U. 233,245 233,245 234,977
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
Tech Prep 102,983 0 102,983
Adult Education 554,122



Student assistance  
TRIO programs 828,178 828,178 848,089
Gear Up 303,423 303,423 313,212
Child Care Access Program 15,534 15,534 16,034
Graduate education  
Byrd Scholarships 40,284 0 40,642
Javits Fellowships 9,530 9,844 9,687
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
Inspector general 50,849 54,539 54,539

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


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