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House Begins Consideration of Labor-HHS Education Spending Bill

Late this week, the House began consideration of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill on the House floor for the first time since 1997. In 1998 and 1999, appropriators were unable to bring the bill to the floor and it was rolled into an omnibus spending bill. Debate began on June 8, but further consideration of the FY2001 Labor-Health and Human Services-Education spending bill (H.R. 4577) will resume the week of June 12.

Overall, the bill would provide $97.2 billion in discretionary spending, $12.3 billion more than the amount appropriated in the FY2000 measure, but $8.9 billion less than the President’s request. Additionally, the bill maintains several controversial funding restrictions with regard to human embryo research, needle exchange programs, and abortion. H.R. 4577 would prohibit the use of funds for the creation of human embryos for research purposes as well as prohibit the use of funds to implement needle exchange programs. Additionally, under the bill, managed care organizations would be prohibited from providing abortion to Medicaid enrollees except in cases of rape, incest, and to save the life of the pregnant woman. Medicare also would be prohibited from providing abortion coverage to disabled women.

Several restrictions that were imposed on Title X family planning clinics in previous years were renewed. Title X clinics would be required to encourage family participation in a minor’s decision to seek reproductive health services; to counsel a minor on how to resist coercive attempts to engage in sexual activity; and to report child abuse, child molestation, sexual abuse, rape, or incest to law enforcement authorities. The committee added a new directive this year. Title X clinics would be required to provide “nondirective” pregnancy counseling.

The highly partisan debate on the measure highlighted party differences, particularly in the area of education. Democrats charged that the bill would either severely underfund or delete funding alltogether for programs of importance to the President, while Republicans argued that the bill would meet the fiscal discipline established under the budget resolution (H. Con. Res. 290) while still funding domestic priorities.

Democrats were further angered by the rule because it automatically reduced funding for Pell Grants by $48 million. Additionally, the rule would trigger an automatic rescission if the advance appropriations under the bill exceed $23.5 billion. The rescission would come from the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), but the rule would direct that the rescission could not cut funding for CCDBG below its FY2000 appropriation.

Arguing in favor of the rule, Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-OH) stated that it “provides an incentive for the House to remain within the advanced appropriations cap set in the budget resolution,” adding: “While the amendment does use the child care and development block grant to create this incentive, it also ensures that the child care block grant will not be reduced beyond a certain level…”

Calling the rule “a sham,” Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) said, “This annual appropriations dance is growing staler than the Macarena,” adding: “In the dead of night, the Committee on Rules has rewritten the underlying bill in the hopes it might survive a floor vote.”

House Appropriations Committee ranking Democrat David Obey (D-WI) stated, “When someone says that we do not have cuts in this bill for education and health care and job training, what they ignore is what happens to real people.”

House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Chair John Porter (R-IL) responded to Democrats’ charges that the bill would substantially cut funding, saying, “When the other side talks about cuts, they are talking about cuts from an irresponsible President’s budget.”

Prior to completing legislative action on the measure this week, the House defeated an effort to remove a restriction dealing with ergonomics standards. As approved by the committee, the bill would prohibit the use of funds by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to promulgate, issue, implement, or enforce a temporary or final rule on ergonomics (see The Source, 5/26/00). Rep. James Traficant (D-OH) offered a motion to strike the language because it violated a rule that prohibits legislating on an appropriations bill. The motion was defeated, 203-220.

The amendment prompted spirited debate. Speaking in opposition to the amendment, Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-CT) stated, “This regulation that OSHA has come out with is so wildly inappropriately related to the problem… helping working people and giving them the resources to identify the problems and find solutions, when employers are clearly highly motivated to invest in safety. It is so wrong-headed it cannot be fixed and it must be stopped.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) argued that the rule should go forward, particularly because repetitive motion injuries disproportionately affect women. “This is a $60 billion national problem that affects 650,000 workers each year….While ergonomic hazards produce 34 percent of all workplace injuries and illnesses, they cause nearly one-half of these among women. Although women comprise 46 percent of the work force and 33 percent of the injured workers, women represent 63 percent of repetitive motion syndrome, including 69 percent of lost work time cases resulting from carpal tunnel syndrome,” she stated.

Other amendments that were considered by the House included an amendment by Rep. Charles Bass (R-NH) that would have increased funding for special education by $1 billion. The amendment was defeated by voice vote. Three amendments were offered and defeated when a point of order against them was sustained. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) offered an amendment that would have increased funding for job skills training programs at the Department of Labor by $1.25 billion. Rep. Obey (D-WI) offered an amendment that would have increased funding for the Department of Labor’s International Affairs Bureau by $97 million. Rep. Traficant offered an amendment that would have increased the minimum wage by $1 over the next two years. For detailed funding levels, see The Source, 5/19/00).

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