Critics of the House Republicans may need to reconsider charges that Congress is nothing but a rubber stamp for the Bush administration, as shown by early action in the House Appropriations Committee.
Notably, an appropriations subcommittee rejected Bush’s proposal to reduce funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CLC) after-school programs by almost $400 million for fiscal 2004, and actually recommended a modest increase of $6.5 million over current spending.
The appropriations subcommittee that oversees the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education approved a $138 billion spending bill for fiscal 2004 on June 19, more than $6 billion over this fiscal year. The spending measure was scheduled for full committee action in late June.
The Senate Appropriations Committee planned sub- and full committee action in late June as well.
The Bush administration proposed to reduce CLC funding from fiscal 2003 levels of $993.5 million to $600 million, a cut of nearly 40 percent. The House subcommittee proposed funding at an even $1 billion.
Administration officials justified their recommendation by citing an evaluation of the program by Mathematica Policy Research, which cited mixed results for the after-school program – an evaluation that drew protest from many after-school supporters. (See “Fed Study, Funding Slash Show Results: Anger,” March.)
The nonprofit Afterschool Alliance called the subcommittee’s proposed funding level “an enormous victory.”
The Republican turnaround on after-school funding was not too surprising. In addition to the fallout over the Mathematica report, the Department of Education held a two-day summit on after-school programs at the beginning of June. The summit was co-hosted by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, an after-school proponent and possible Republican candidate for governor of California.
Schwarzenegger also testified in favor of after-school programming before the House subcommittee May 13, telling members “it would be a mistake” to reduce funding.
The House subcommittee differed with Bush on numerous other social programs, shortchanging several policy proposals important to the administration. The subcommittee:
• recommended $50 million for mentoring programs, half of what Bush requested but $32 million more than this year;
• came in $8 million under the Bush request for abstinence education, approving $65 million;
• approved $25 million for mentoring children of prisoners, half the administration request but an increase of $15 million over the current year;
• halved the administration’s $100 million request for the Compassion Capital Fund, approving an increase of $15 million.
• did not fund a $20 million proposal to promote responsible fatherhood and a $10 million request to establish maternity group homes.
The subcommittee was more in line with the administration on several big ticket items, to the chagrin of Democrats. The House bill would fund Child Care and Development Block Grants at the administration’s requested level of $2.1 billion, about $13 million more than the current year.
It also agreed to the $1.7 billion proposal for the Social Service Block Grant, the current level, and to the Bush request for $7.1 billion for education grants to states for disadvantaged students, an increase of nearly $66 million.
Under the subcommittee’s action, Youth Training state grants in the Department of Labor would be funded at $1 billion, the same level as the administration request and a $6.5 million increase over this year. The administration and the subcommittee also agreed on $39.3 million to administer other youth employment and training programs, a minor increase.
The full House approved legislation to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, which oversees funding and structure of youth job-training programs, on May 8, along mostly partisan lines. A Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions subcommittee held its first hearing on the reauthorization June 18. Full committee action is possible before the July 4 recess.
Spending levels were not expected to change much when the funding bill reached the full House Appropriations Committee in late June. But policy battles – and possibly some changes – are expected in both chambers when the bills hit the floor.
Drugs and Politics
House Republicans also bowed to pressure from Democrats and abandoned a proposal that would have allowed the use of federal funds to air ads opposing candidates or ballot initiatives that favor legalizing drugs. The proposal was part of a bill (HR 2086) that would reauthorize the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) for the next five years.
The House Government Reform Committee approved the legislation June 5, but provisions of the bill remain under the authority of the Energy and Commerce, Judiciary, and Intelligence committees.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the political ad provision would have allowed the ONDCP to spend up to $195 million a year to run ads to defeat medical marijuana ballot measures and candidates who favor liberalizing drug laws.
As it now stands, the bill would authorize more than $1 billion for the ONDCP’s anti-drug youth media campaign: $195 million annually for fiscal 2004 and ’05, and $210 million annually for fiscal 2006-08. The Partnership for a Drug Free America would continue to serve as the primary adviser on the ad campaign.
A House-Senate conference committee completed action on legislation (S 342) to reauthorize the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, with both chambers approving the final agreement and sending it to the White House for approval. The bill would authorize $200 million in grants for fiscal 2004: $120 million for state grants and $80 million for community-based grants.
The current funding levels for the grants program is $56 million for states and $33 million for communities.
The bill also would authorize $40 million for the Adoptions Opportunities program and $45 million for programs under the Abandoned Infants Act. It would reauthorize programs under the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act at $175 million a year.
Community and National Service
With impeccable timing, Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced legislation (S1274) that would reauthorize the Corporation for National and Community Service and its myriad programs.
The three senators announced the bipartisan effort June 5, less than two weeks before AmeriCorps officials announced deep cuts to state competitive grants that would gut hundreds of programs across the nation. (See story, page 31.) The bill was officially introduced June 17, a day after the cuts were announced.
The bill would increase the number of AmeriCorps members from 50,000 a year to 75,000. The proposal would make the education award that AmeriCorps volunteers earn – $4,725 for a full-time, one-year commitment – tax-free.
The proposal also would return the college work-study program to its original purpose by requiring that at least 25 percent of the federal funds for the program go to subsidize salaries of students who work in the community. The current requirement is 7 percent.
The legislation also has homeland defense and military options, including proposals to allow volunteers to earn $18,000 by serving in the armed forces for 18 months, followed by 18 months in the reserves. It also would double the benefits of the G.I. bill from $7,800 annually for three years to $15,600.