WASHINGTON – House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD), a senior member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, released the following statement today at the subcommittee markup of the fiscal year 2004 funding bill:
“The Republican tax cut chickens have come home to roost today. The trillions of dollars in tax cuts that President Bush and Congressional Republicans have proudly rammed through Congress are forcing freezes and outright cuts in funding for the education, health and labor programs that have made this country the envy of the world for a century.
“President Bush set the bar quite low for Republicans when he submitted a budget that was 5.1 percent below last year’s funding levels, cut elementary and secondary education by over $900 million, slashed after-school centers by $400 million, and eliminated 46 different education programs.
“So, while the Chairman's mark tries to save some credibility for the Republican Party on education by mitigating some of the outrageous education cuts and eliminations in the President's budget, they are still breaking their promise to leave no child behind.
“At a time when our states and local governments are cutting education to the point of ‘teachers of the year’ losing positions, at a time when schools and teachers are struggling to meet the new standards set in No Child Left Behind, it is a display of out-of-whack priorities and values to be shortchanging our education system while passing tax cuts that put a greater share of the tax burden on the middle class and have questionable benefits for the economy.
“Finally, the height of irony is the cuts in employment and training funding by 1 percent from last year’s level and a 2 percent reduction in the President's request for Job Corps, which serves 700,000 disadvantaged young people gain vocation and academic training during a period of high unemployment and economic insecurity.
“Once again, the Republican Party’s policy lays bare their political priorities and values: tax cuts that help the few and won’t benefit the economy over education, health and labor programs that help make our nation the greatest in the world.”
FY2004 EDUCATION APPROPRIATIONS: GOP BROKEN PROMISES
The Republican leadership has provided an allocation for FY2004 education spending that forces them to break specific promises they made about education funding just months ago. This bill clearly proves that the Republican Party has determined that tax cuts for wealthy Americans should be the nation’s first priority - not education, as they promised:
BROKEN PROMISE - Overall Education Funding: In April, the Majority loudly proclaimed in the conference report on the FY 2004 budget resolution that they would provide a “$3-billion increase from the previous year for the Department of Education.” This bill falls far short of that promise, providing only a $2.3 billion or 4.3 percent increase for education - the smallest dollar increase in five years and the smallest percentage increase in eight years. A promise made, and a promise broken.
BROKEN PROMISE - No Child Left Behind: On January 8, 2002, President Bush, promised that “America’s schools will be on a new path of reform, and a new path of results…And our schools will have greater resources to meet those goals.” Now, we have reform. Now, we have accountability plans from all 50 states. Where are the resources? This bill provides an increase of only $381 million or 1.6 percent over the current funding level for the No Child Left Behind Act. That is a freeze in real terms. We can provide a trillion dollars in tax cuts, but at the same time, this bill doesn’t come even close to meeting the funding levels authorized in No Child Left Behind Act - which would require another $8 billion in FY 2004.
BROKEN PROMISE - Special Education: In the budget resolution conference report, the Republicans stated that it would increase IDEA funding by $2.2 billion over the current level to help school districts meet the costs of special education. We heard over and over when the IDEA reauthorization bill was debated on the House floor that the Republicans were authorizing the additional $2.2 billion that would put IDEA on a glide path to full funding. Although this bill does provide a $1.0 billion increase for special education, it provides less than half of the amount promised by 217 Republicans just seven short weeks ago - a $1.2 billion shortfall.
BROKEN PROMISE - Title I Funding: The Majority also said in the budget resolution conference report that it would provide a $1 billion or 8.6 percent increase over the current level for Title 1 grants to school districts. Yet, this bill falls $334 million short - providing only the $666 million increase requested by the President. The $12.35 billion included in the bill for Title 1 is more than $6 billion below the amount authorized in the NCLB Act. A promise made, a promise broken.
BROKEN PROMISE - College Education: This bill also fails our college students who paid, on average, a10 percent tuition increase (at four-year public universities) in the school year just ended. On some campuses, the tuition increases were as much as 24 percent. Additional tuition increases are on the way as states slash higher education budgets to address record budget deficits, and colleges make up the difference in the form of even higher tuition bills. Yet, this bill freezes the maximum Pell Grant at $4,050. As a result, the Pell Grant as a percentage of the cost of college attendance would fall to 38 percent in 2004 - a far cry from the 84 percent of college costs met when the Pell Grant Program was first established. The bill freezes all other forms of student financial assistance, too. Moreover, this deep freeze on the student aid budget comes on top of the Bush Administration’s new regulation to reduce the amount of student aid for which students are eligible by cutting the deduction in the student aid eligibility formula for state and local taxes.
FY2004 HHS APPROPRIATIONS: GOP SHORTCHANGING PRIORITIES
With the poverty rate increasing for the first time in four years, with 33 million poor people needing help with 16.3 percent of our children living in poverty, and with unemployment increasing to the highest levels in 9 years, one might expect a serious increase in funding for HHS and its social safety net programs. Instead, the Republicans are proposing a bill that in many cases slashes these very programs at the most crucial time. These cuts, of course, come just as the Republicans are proposing even more tax cuts for the wealthiest sliver of the population:
NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: Over the last five years, the NIH has received annual increases of roughly 15% as part of Congress’s commitment to increase science and medical research. This year, the Bush Administration proposes to slam on the brakes, proposing an increase of just 2.5 percent - not even enough to keep up with inflation. The Republican bill adopts the Administration’s proposal. Under this budget, NIH says it will be able to afford an increase of just two-tenths of one percent in the number of new and competing research grants (outside of the bio-defense area). That means there will be little room to fund new ideas and new avenues of inquiry, and only limited opportunity for young researchers to secure NIH support.
HEALTH CARE SAFETY NET: Currently, the number of people without health insurance is increasing as unemployment remains high and as budget shortfalls lead states to cut back on Medicaid eligibility and benefits. In response to this crisis, the Republican bill proposes funding levels that does very little for the most basic health care safety net programs. The bill provides no more than the Administration’s budget for Community Health Centers - the smallest percentage increase since 1998. It provides no increase at all for the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant or the National Health Service Corps - despite the Administration having sought increases for both. It also provides no increase for childhood immunization - a program that has had trouble keeping up with the rising cost of vaccinating children and whose problems will be made worse by this bill.
BIOTERRORISM PREPAREDNESS: Under the Republican bill state and local health departments will receive $94 million less in bio-terrorism preparedness grants than they received this year. The Department of HHS asked for $100 million to get the nation better prepared to deal with an influenza pandemic; the bill provides only half that amount.
NURSING SHORTAGE: Last year, with much fanfare, Congress passed major new authorizing legislation, the Nurse Reinvestment Act, to help deal with that shortage. Yet the Republican bill provides no increase at all in funding for those programs this year. It actually contains $7 million less than the President requested for one of the programs, which provides scholarships to nursing students who agree to work after graduation in areas with a serious shortage of nurses.
UNEMPLOYMENT: The Republican bill cuts the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) by $150.8 million as proposed by President Bush. The Community Action Programs funded by CSBG help those people who most need help by helping them help themselves. If this cut remains in this bill, it will have an immediate impact on almost every single Congressional District, reducing services for the growing numbers of low-income, working poor and the long-term unemployed. In many areas, this cut will shut down programs, which upgrade the skills and marketability of TANF recipients and other low-wage workers. And it will shut down desperately needed emergency food distribution efforts for homeless and other low-income families in 14 rural counties in Wisconsin, including three in my district.
LOW INCOME HEATING ASSISTANCE: The Republican bill does not even fully fund the President’s request for LIHEAP. The President proposed a total of $2.0 billion for LIHEAP, including $1.7 billion for the state formula grant program and $300.0 million for the emergency allocation. This would have provided roughly the same amount of funding that was available this year to help our most vulnerable citizens with their home energy needs. With the poverty rate increasing for the first time in four years, with 33 million poor people needing help with 16.3 percent of our children living in poverty, and with unemployment increasing to the highest levels in 9 years, the bill nonetheless cuts LIHEAP funding to $1.8 billion, including $1.7 billion for formula grants and $100.0 million for emergencies - less than last year and less than the President’s own request.