Federal Education Appropriations, Pending
It's appropriations time on Capitol Hill. This week, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees moved to adopt their respective versions of the fiscal year 2009 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill. This week's committee action begins the annual federal education funding process, but the spending bill still faces a number of procedural steps and political hurdles before it becomes law.
In February, the President released his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, which outlined funding levels for all education programs, and established a recommended total appropriations spending level of $990.7 billion. Congress adopted its own total funding level of $1.012 trillion in May when it passed the fiscal year 2009 congressional budget resolution. (Last year Congress set the spending level at $953.1 billion).
As we explained in our federal budget primer earlier this year, the budget resolution funding ceiling (called a 302(a) allocation) does not specify funding levels for individual programs, only an aggregate total. So, anyone interested in federal education funding has had to wait until now to get a glimpse of the funding levels Congress is likely to adopt. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees took two key actions over the past weeks that gave some shape to education funding for the upcoming fiscal year.
First, the Appropriations Committees in each House divided up the 302(a) allocation of $1.012 trillion among 12 subcommittees. These suballocations, called 302(b) suballocations, limit the total spending that a subcommittee can divvy up among programs within its jurisdiction. For the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, the House set a spending level of $153.1 billion, and the Senate put it at $152.7 billion. The fiscal year 2008 enacted bill provides $145.1 billion. Then, yesterday, the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted its version of the fiscal year 2009 Labor-HHS-Education funding bill with the House expected to follow soon. We'll have a detailed analysis of those funding levels in the coming days.
There is still a lot more work to be done, and more hurdles to clear, before a final funding bill is signed into law. Consider that the House and Senate bills would spend nearly $8 billion more than the President recommended in his budget. He's threatening to veto any bill over his proposed spending levels. What's more, the bills have only cleared the committee level. They still need approval by the full House and Senate. Then, any differences in funding levels between the two Houses must be worked out... and there are bound to be many differences.
Given the election year politics, and a Democratically controlled Congress that would rather wait for a new President to sign its favored bill in January than concede to a lame duck, it's likely to be many months before fiscal year 2009 education funding levels are set in stone.