Senate panel approves $153.1 billion for discretionary spending in labor-HHS-education bill for FY 2009

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The Senate Appropriations Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee on Tuesday by voice vote approved a $631 billion fiscal year 2009 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, CQ Today reports.

The legislation includes $153.1 billion in discretionary spending, an $8 billion increase from FY 2008 and $7.7 billion more than requested by President Bush. The bill would provide $68.3 billion in discretionary spending for HHS.

The legislation would provide about $30 billion in spending for NIH, a $1.1 billion increase from FY 2008 (Wayne, CQ Today, 6/24). Subcommittee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said that the increase in spending for NIH would help the agency respond to "biomedical inflation" and retain young researchers. According to Harkin, after adjustment for inflation, the NIH budget has decreased by 12.3% since 2003.

The bill also would increase spending for community health centers by $150 million to $2.2 billion, for nursing education by $11.6 million to $167 million, for senior nutrition services by $43 million to $801 million and for the National Cancer Institute by $153 million.

In addition, the legislation would increase spending for the Office on Smoking and Health at CDC (Kivlan, CongressDaily, 6/24). The bill would increase spending for influenza pandemic preparedness by 682% to $585.1 million from $75 million for FY 2008 (Wayne, CQ Today, 6/24). The legislation also includes $25 million for a new program that would provide subsidized colorectal cancer screenings for low-income U.S. residents. Spending for a program that provides breast and cervical cancer screenings for low-income women would remain flat under the bill (CongressDaily, 6/24).

Harkin said that he hopes to move the legislation to the Senate floor for a vote in July. According to CQ Today, Bush likely would veto the bill (Wayne, CQ Today, 6/24).

House Panel Passes Military Construction-VA Spending Bill

The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday by voice vote approved a $118.7 billion FY 2009 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs appropriations bill, CQ Today reports.

The legislation includes $72.7 billion in discretionary spending, with $47.7 billion for VA (Johnson, CQ Today, 6/24). The discretionary spending included in the bill represents a $4.6 billion increase from FY 2008 and $2.9 billion more than Bush requested (Scully, CongressDaily, 6/25). The bill also includes $46 billion in mandatory spending for VA.

The legislation would provide $40.8 billion for the Veterans Health Administration, a $3.9 billion increase from FY 2008 and $1.6 billion more than Bush requested. The VHA budget includes:

  • $568 million to increase enrollment of Priority 8 veterans by 10%;
  • $300 million to address nonrecurrent maintenance at VA health care facilities;
  • $200 million to increase access to fee-based care for veterans who do not live near VA facilities;
  • $116 million for new prosthetics; and
  • $58 million for medical research in trauma, mental health and other areas.

The bill also includes at least $3.8 billion for specialty health services, $584 million for substance use programs and $2 billion for VA construction projects. In addition, the legislation would increase subcommittee oversight of efforts to care for veterans who develop mental illnesses, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use problems or suicidal tendencies.

Before approval of the bill, the committee passed an amendment sponsored by ranking member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) that would increase the mileage reimbursement rate for veterans who travel to VA facilities to 41.5 cents per mile from 35 cents per mile (Johnson, CQ Today, 6/24).

Second Supplemental Spending Bill Possible

A "long-awaited" supplemental war appropriations bill that includes domestic spending provisions has "yet to reach ... Bush's desk," but "Democrats are already talking about a second supplemental spending measure focused on domestic needs," CQ Today reports (Higa, CQ Today, 6/24). According to CongressDaily, after "House approval of the war package last week, Democratic leaders in both the Senate and House ... talked of the need for a second supplemental [measure] in an effort to head off attempts by senators to include additional funding in the bill and undo a delicately struck agreement with the White House" (Sanchez, CongressDaily, 6/25).

"Among the candidates for inclusion in a second supplemental are ... additional aid for Hurricane Katrina recovery," such as a provision removed from the first supplemental appropriations bill that would provide $157 million for six hospitals in Louisiana, CQ Today reports (Higa, CQ Today, 6/24). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that the second supplemental appropriations bill also might include a provision to expand SCHIP (Alpert, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 6/25).

Reid said he hopes the Senate will address the legislation in July (Higa, CQ Today, 6/24). The "enactment of a second supplemental would be ... difficult because it would not include the money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that the Bush administration desperately wanted," and without war spending, "Congress would seem to have far fewer bargaining chips with the president," according to the Times-Picayune (New Orleans Times-Picayune, 6/25).

Entitlement Spending Commission Bill Hearing

House Budget Committee Chair John Spratt (D-S.C.) on Tuesday said he does not support a bill (HR 3654) that would establish a special commission to address long-term federal budget problems related to spending for entitlement programs, CQ Today reports.

The bill, sponsored by Reps. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.), would establish a 16-member commission that would include at least four members of Congress to develop a legislative proposal after one year to address the increased gap between federal revenue and spending for entitlement programs. Under the bill, the House and Senate would have to hold floor votes on legislative proposals developed by the commission.

At a hearing on the bill, Spratt said, "I think most members will look at this as an overdelegation of responsibility." He added that any proposals to address federal budget problems related to spending for entitlement programs would require leadership from the next president and should result from bipartisan negotiations in the standard legislative process.

Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) have introduced a similar bill (S 2063) (Clarke, CQ Today, 6/24).

Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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