Senate Passes Labor-HHS Spending Bill; Veto Expected
The Senate on Tuesday voted 75-19 to approve its $606 billion fiscal year 2008 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill (HR 3043) by a veto-proof margin, Reuters/Washington Post reports.
President Bush has threatened to veto the appropriations bill because it exceeds his request by $9 billion (Cowan, Reuters/Washington Post, 10/23).
The bill includes $152 billion in discretionary spending for health care and other programs. Bush has proposed reducing discretionary spending for programs covered under the bill by $3.6 billion from FY 2007, and Democrats have proposed increasing spending by about $7 billion (California Healthline, 10/18).
Under the legislation, NIH would receive an additional $1 billion over FY 2007 funding. Bush had requested a $289 million cut in funding for the agency. In addition, the bill would provide an additional $259 million for community health centers and an additional $224 million for CDC, as well as increased funding for education (Taylor, AP/Houston Chronicle, 10/24).
Health care-related amendments adopted into the bill include a provision that would prohibit the government from preventing U.S. residents to purchase prescription drugs from Canada; language that would cancel a Democratic plan to redistribute some money for city HIV/AIDS programs; and a measure that would reduce by $150 million a fund intended to reward physicians who report information on care quality to Medicare (Wayne, CQ Today, 10/23).
The bill now will go to conference with the House's version of the bill, which is about $2 billion more than the Senate version (Reuters/Washington Post, 10/23). Democrats hope to send the compromise bill to the president by early November, with the assumption they will need to renegotiate the legislation after Bush vetoes it, CongressDaily reports (Cohn, CongressDaily, 10/24). Democrats to date have not sent Bush any of the 12 FY 2008 appropriations bills, at least 10 of which he has threatened to veto. The fiscal year began on Oct. 1, and Cabinet departments and federal agencies since that time have operated on a continuing resolution (California Healthline, 10/18).
The Labor-HHS bill is the largest of the 12 annual spending bills and likely will be the first sent to the president, starting a "veto battle ... for almost every domestic agency," the AP/Houston Chronicle reports.
According to the AP/Chronicle, "Bush is intent on issuing vetoes and has so far rebuffed Democratic pleas for negotiations. But Democrats and some Republicans hope that, once he gets a few vetoes out of his system, the White House will signal a willingness to compromise" (AP/Houston Chronicle, 10/24).
According to Reuters/Post, "Republicans have countered that lawmakers should work harder to rein in government, an argument made difficult by the fact that overall spending skyrocketed during the previous six years when they controlled Congress, and as Iraq war funding is rapidly approaching $600 billion" (Reuters/Washington Post, 10/23). House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said, "We are arguing about whether or not to invest further moneys in education, health care, (anti-crime grants), border security, port security, environment protection. The president has asked for $196.4 billion supplemental funding this year for Iraq and Afghanistan ... while he argues as to whether or not we ought to increase ... cancer research, diabetes research, heart/lung research for our citizens."
White House spokesperson Dana Perino said, "In passing this bill, Democrats in Congress will say that the president doesn't care about children or education or health research. We've all heard these tired old lines before. The facts demonstrate the president's strong and consistent commitment to children, education and health research -- and the American people are smart enough to know that there is no such thing as a free lunch" (AP/Houston Chronicle, 10/24).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Wednesday reported on the legislation and other appropriations bills. The segment includes comments from Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.); Donald Kettl, a budget expert at the University of Pennsylvania; Perino; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.); and House Appropriations Committee Chair David Obey (D-Wis.) (Welna, "Morning Edition," NPR, 10/24). Audio and a partial transcript of the segment are available online.
In related news, NPR's "All Things Considered" on Tuesday included a discussion with HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt about his blog on the HHS Web site (Block, "All Things Considered," NPR, 10/24). Audio of the segment is available online.