House Democrats on Thursday passed a package that includes the war funding, a new $10 billion fund aimed at limiting education job cutbacks by states facing fiscal crises and about $5 billion for Pell Grants for low-income college students.
To help pay for the education measures, House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) included in the package cuts to the Obama administration's school reform programs, which are aimed at spurring innovation by states and school districts.
The thirteen senators — 12 Democrats and an Independent — said they oppose Obey's plan to reduce funding for the Race to the Top program, Teacher Incentive Fund and charter schools by $800 million.
"In short, the proposed Department of Education cuts are unacceptable," the senators said in a letter. "Using these programs as offsets for teacher jobs presents us with a false choice between supporting teachers or supporting these critical reform efforts."
The group was led by Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who has been a strong backer of the administration's reform efforts, and included Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). The letter was addressed to Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).
"By taking money from these programs in the midst of the competitive process, we would not only derail bold education reform efforts, we'd also be breaking faith with the states, districts and schools that relied on the existence of this funding as an incentive to undertake reform," the senators said.
Obey has argued that much of the funding for the $4.35 billion Race to the Top program has yet to be spent, and stopping more layoffs should be a top priority.
By opposing Obey's plan, Senate Democrats are siding with Obama. The
White House has threatened a veto of the war and education spending
bill if it includes Obey's proposed cuts.
Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the top GOP appropriator who helped craft the Senate version of the war spending bill, has also opposed additional House provisions in the spending package.
The Pentagon has called on lawmakers to pass the money by July 4, but the Senate won't take up the measure until after next week's congressional recess.