The U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee voted Thursday night to approve a 2006 spending bill  that would increase the maximum Pell Grant by $50 and provide $28.5 billion in funds for the National Institutes of Health.
As passed by the panel, the spending bill for the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services would, among other things:
- Increase the maximum Pell Grant by $50 to $4,100 -- half of the $100 rise called for by President Bush’s budget and by the 2006 budget resolution approved by Congress. The House measure also would eliminate the program’s $4.3 billion shortfall.
- Protect several programs that President Bush’s budget had recommended eliminating, including the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education program, the Upward Bound, Talent Search, and Gear Up programs that help disadvantaged students attend college, and the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership Program.
- Wipe out new funds for the Perkins Loan Program, which gives colleges money to lend at a fixed low rate to students from low-income families.
- Finance a new community college job training initiative that President Bush has touted at $125 million -- half of the $250 million the president requested.
- Provide $28.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health, an increase of $145 million, or 0.5 percent, over the 2005 budget.
- Eliminate about $250 million of the $300 million that Congress provided last year for programs in the Department of Health and Human Services that support the education and training of health professionals.
When the measure was drafted  last week by the appropriations subcommittee that oversees education and biomedical research, college officials, while not thrilled by the outcome, were generally relieved that it was not worse.
In considering the bill Thursday, the members of the Appropriations Committee were ensnared, as they have been many times before, in a protracted debate over cloning and cloned embryos. Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) offered an amendment that would have barred an institution from receiving any NIH funds, directly or indirectly, if it engaged in somatic cell nuclear transfer, a process that places DNA from a specific patient's cell into the cell of a human egg.. The process, sometimes called therapeutic or research cloning, can be used to produce stem cells that can match a particular patient's DNA.
Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the top Democrat on the appropriations panel, offered an alternative amendment -- purely as a tactic to defeat the Weldon provision -- that would ban somatic cell nuclear transfer to create a cloned human being, but would allow scientists to use the technology for research purposes. Obey withdrew his amendment, but not before threatening that if Weldon's amendment passed, he and other Democrats would bombard the committee with other amendments on the subject.
The panel rejected Weldon's amendment by a 36 to 29 margin, with several Republicans joining most Democrats.
The committee also rejected, along party lines, another Obey amendment that sought to make a point. It called for cutting back what Obey called the "tax cut for millionaires" that Congress adopted as part of the 2006 budget resolution -- a step the Appropriations Committee doesn't have the authority to take -- and investing half of the $23.6 billion that such a move would save into various education and other programs funded through this bill.
The spending bill for education programs and the NIH now heads to the full House of Representatives, which is expected to take it up next week.
The full House on Thursday passed a bill to finance the operations of the National Science Foundation and several other agencies. The measure would spending on education and human resources at the NSF at $807 million, which is $70 million above the president’s budget request but $34 million below the current level. Funds for research would rise to $4.38 billion, $157 million more than this year and $47 million above what the administration requested.
The measure approved by the House Thursday would also gut provisions  in the Patriot Act that give federal law enforcement officials the right to obtain library records showing what individuals are reading. Library groups have been pushing for such a limit, saying that the original Patriot Act provisions infringe on readers’ privacy.