PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday July 22nd, 2015, 11:39pm

U.S. House Budget Bill Seeks Deep Cuts To Education, Labor & Health Programs

Progress Illinois takes a closer look at a U.S. House budget bill covering the departments of labor, health and human services (HHS) and education. The House Appropriations Committee advanced the spending measure last month.

Budget experts are criticizing a recently advanced U.S. House appropriations bill that would slash $3.7 billion next year from the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS) and Education as well as related agencies.

The $153 billion budget bill, approved by the House Appropriations Committee last month, would eliminate school improvement and preschool development grants, zero out the Title X family planning and preventative health services program for low-income patients and reduce job training funds by $135 million, among other controversial cuts. 

House Republicans also added language to gut the Affordable Care Act by defunding its existing programs and prohibiting new discretionary funds from being put toward the health care reform law. 

In a new report analyzing the House labor-HHS-education appropriations bill -- which contains $14.6 billion less in spending compared to President Barack Obama's requested budget -- experts from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) note that "other damaging policy riders" are included in the GOP budget measure. Provisions are included to block "efforts to protect against conflicts of interest by retirement plan advisers, to bar the worst-performing career colleges from benefiting from federal student aid programs and to improve the process by which workers vote on whether to be represented by a union," the report says.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate are both working on appropriation bills for the budget year beginning October 1. The Senate Appropriations Committee has also passed a labor-HHS-education budget bill with similar cuts. 

The labor-HHS-education funding bill would likely be blocked in the full Senate, where Democrats are stalling Republican spending bills. They are using the filibuster in an effort to reach a deal on ending sequester spending caps.

Congress is supposed to pass appropriation bills by the start of the new fiscal year.

The departments covered by the labor-HHS-education appropriations measure have already faced a series of cutbacks over the past five years. Under the House Republican's budget proposal, the affected departments would see $29 billion, or 16 percent, less in funding than they did in 2010, according to CBPP.

"The new cuts reflect the tight caps on annual appropriations imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA), as further reduced by sequestration. But they also reflect a decision by the committee's Republican majority to make the labor, HHS, and education bill one of their lowest priorities," reads the report by CBPP's Brandon Debot and David Reich. "In allocating funding among the 12 appropriations bills, the committee majority targeted the labor-HHS-education bill for the largest dollar cut by far and the second-largest percentage cut."

Most of the House bill's spending reductions, $2.5 billion, would hit the Education Department. The HHS and Labor Departments face a $215 million and $204 million cut, respectively.

Also covered under the appropriations measure are the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Labor Relations Board and other related agencies. The House spending bill contains several anti-union measures, including a $74 million cut to the National Labor Relations Board's budget. The Labor Department also faces $36 million in spending reductions for its agencies focused on worker protections.

Additionally, the House budget plan would eliminate over two dozen education programs, according to CBPP, and slash Pell Grants for low-income college students by $370 million. Regarding HHS, funding for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid would be cut by $649 million and grants for teen pregnancy prevention programs would be reduced by $98 million.

Areas that would see funding increases include special education, medical research, some Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initiatives and Head Start, a school readiness program for low-income families.

The CBPP experts, however, note that the measure's funding increases are mostly "unrealistic, as the bill offsets those increases with highly controversial cuts that have little chance of passing the Senate and virtually no chance of becoming law."

House Republicans call the appropriations bill fiscally responsible.

"The funding in this bill is targeted to programs that are proven to produce results. The American people rely on these investments for life-saving research, protection from deadly outbreaks and bio-attacks, safe workplaces and effective education systems," House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY,5) said in a press release after the measure's committee approval. "In addition, great efforts were made to ensure none of the funding in the bill is spent wastefully or inappropriately. This includes terminating unnecessary programs, trimming back lower-priority areas and preventing tax dollars from going toward extreme, intrusive regulations that have a net negative effect on this nation."

But critics like Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, say the budget measure is "politics at its worst." 

"Cutting the Title X Family Planning program could leave nearly 4.6 million people without care," Richards said in a statement. "If Republican leaders in Congress think they can take away millions of women's access to health care and shut down programs that are reducing teen pregnancy without one hell of a fight, they have another thing coming."

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