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House panel cuts health research, aid to schools

Health research, school aid and social services for the poor would bear budget cuts under a bill approved by a House panel Wednesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Health research, school aid and social services for the poor would bear budget cuts under a bill approved by a House panel Wednesday.

But despite the cuts in a bill providing $141.9 billion for the departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services, lawmakers found $1 billion more than last year for back-home projects unrequested by President Bush. Those include grants to local hospitals and clinics and research earmarks for universities and colleges in lawmakers’ districts.

The House Appropriations Labor-HHS Subcommittee approved the bill by a 9-7 party-line vote Wednesday after Democrats such as Rep. David Obey savaged the bill for its cuts to the National Institutes of Health, programs funded by the 2002 No Child Left Behind education bill and for reducing the federal share for special education programs.

Overall, the NIH would be frozen at last year’s levels, though almost every individual institute — including those funding research into child development, alcohol and drug abuse, mental health and general medicine — would face cuts.

“This bill defines our priorities,” Obey said. He said the cuts to programs such as the elimination of $272 million in school technology grants were the inevitable result of a deficit squeeze brought on by several recent rounds of GOP tax cuts.

Bill would pare recruitment grants
The bill also cuts grants to help schools recruit, hire and train teachers to meet No Child Left Behind mandates by $300 million, or 10 percent. The measure also cuts safe and drug free school grants by 10 percent.

Republicans countered that they had produced as fair a bill as possible in tight budget times. They highlighted a $100 increase in the maximum Pell Grant to $4,150 and a double-digit percentage increase for community health centers.

The bill would restore $4.1 billion worth of deeper cuts proposed by Bush for programs covered by the measure. For instance, Bush-proposed cuts to programs aimed at helping minorities enter the medical profession were significantly eased.

That still may not be enough to satisfy GOP moderates, who are pressing for $3 billion more to bring these programs up to levels approved two years ago. House GOP leaders have promised to find the $3 billion by the time the measure is presented to Bush, but that is unlikely to happen until a postelection lame duck session.

The impact of the cuts spread throughout the bill, Obey said, is intensified when inflation and population growth are factored in.

The draft bill is the single largest spending measure passed each year for domestic programs and includes another $455 billion for benefit programs such as Medicaid whose budgets rise as if on automatic pilot.

Specter action unpopular
Cuts to the bill last year prompted Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., to strip $1 billion of lawmakers’ earmarks from the bill, and he put the money back into programs such as health research. That move was deeply unpopular among Specter’s colleagues — and among the Washington lobbyists who earn millions obtaining earmarks for their clients — and the practice of heavily earmarking the bill was quickly restored this year.

The panel’s action also rekindles a battle fought last year over the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The bill would cut by 5 percent previously appropriated funds for the budget year beginning Oct. 1 and eliminate subsidies for educational programs and technological upgrades.

The bill also fails to provide future-year funding for public television as is the typical practice.

Congress created the corporation in 1967 to shield public broadcasting from political influence. It distributes federal subsidies to PBS, National Public Radio and hundreds of public radio and television stations.

Meanwhile, the House gave only cursory debate to a $3 billion measure funding its own budget. That represents a 4 percent increase. Floor action moved so swiftly that a half-dozen members who hoped to offer amendments such as a plan to block smoking areas in House office buildings lost their chance.

A vote on the legislative funding bill is expected later Wednesday while the Labor-HHS bill goes before the full Appropriations panel next week.