House Approves Revised Labor-HHS Spending Bill
The House on Wednesday voted 215-213 to approve a $602 billion fiscal year 2006 Labor-HHS spending bill that reduces discretionary spending by about 1% to $142.5 billion, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Taylor, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/15). Last month, a slightly different version of the bill failed when all House Democrats and 22 Republicans voted against it. At least seven Republicans at the time said they voted against the bill because of cuts in funding for rural health care programs.
Congressional conferees on Monday reached an agreement that shifted $180 million in health-related costs to win the support of more Republicans (California Healthline, 12/13). The bill contains mandatory spending for programs, including Medicaid and Medicare, and "steep cuts" to programs related to medical training, community colleges, rural health care and state and local health departments (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/15).
Discretionary spending in the version of the bill approved on Wednesday is about $1.5 billion less than last year's allocation, and NIH would receive its smallest funding increase since 1970 (Murray/Weisman, Washington Post, 12/15).
Democrats, all of whom voted against the bill, said they oppose cuts in programs for low-income families, particularly following last week's passage of $94 billion in tax cuts, the Los Angeles Times reports (Simon, Los Angeles Times, 12/15). House Republicans' "struggle" to pass the bill reflects "how difficult many lawmakers are finding it" to cut government spending, the CQ Today reports (Swindell, CQ Today, 12/15).
The bill now moves to the Senate, "where it faces uncertain prospects later in the week," the AP/Inquirer reports (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/15).
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chair of the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, said he expects the bill to win Senate approval, but he added, "I will vote for it if my vote is needed to pass, otherwise I will vote against. There is not enough money in it" (CQ Today, 12/15).
In other congressional news, the House "appeared to be moving toward the Senate" with regard to Medicaid cuts in the FY 2006 deficit reduction package, the Post reports. Senate aides said Medicaid savings would probably be limited to about $6 billion over five years (Washington Post, 12/15).
The original House bill included about twice as much in Medicaid cuts as the Senate version (California Healthline, 12/13). The two chambers have "tentatively" aimed at $45 billion in cuts from entitlement spending, the Washington Times reports (Fagan, Washington Times, 12/15).
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) have instructed the Budget committees to conclude negotiations on Thursday in order to go to conference on Friday (Cohn/Heil, CongressDaily, 12/15).
In related news, 114 religious leaders and activists on Wednesday were arrested for blocking the entrance to a congressional office building as they protested House budget cuts.
Jim Wallis, founder of the Christian ministry Sojourners, said, "There is a Christmas scandal in this nation ... and it is the budget that is an assault on poor people and low-income families." About 300 people participated in the protest, which was part of a nationwide effort to hold prayer vigils to oppose cuts to programs that assist the poor, including Medicaid (Emerling, Washington Times, 12/15).