By Erik Wasson
Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) on Tuesday released his long-awaited, controversial labor, health and education spending bill.
The Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill cuts $6.3 billion compared to current funding and $8.8 billion compared to President Obama's budget, and has $150 billion in total spending.
Rehberg chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on labor and health and has been running as a centrist in a tight race for Sen. Jon Tester’s (D-Mont.) seat. The Tester campaign has vowed to make the cuts in the bill a campaign issue.
Indeed, because of its difficult cuts to social programs, meetings to finalize the labor bill were repeatedly delayed.
The last of the 12 annual appropriations bills to be released this year, it will receive a subcommittee markup on Wednesday, but is not likely to come to the House floor. Instead, its provisions will factor in during House-Senate spending negotiations in the fall.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who earlier described the bill as "difficult," said that care was taken to target waste.
"A careful look was given to all programs and agencies in the bill, with the budget knife aimed at excess spending and underperforming programs, but also with the goal of making wise investments in programs that help the American people the most,” he said.
Rehberg did not issue a statement Tuesday but on Friday he said: "If Washington is going to tackle our spending problem, we’ve simply got to start setting priorities. We can strike a balance between funding responsible, effective programs that work for people and trimming waste and duplication to help reduce the deficit."
Democrats immediately pounced on the measure.
“The Labor-HHS-Education bill released today, the last bill to be considered, is the most partisan we’ve seen this year,” House Appropriations Committee ranking member Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) said. “Unlike many of the other subcommittee proposals for markup this year, this subcommittee chair made no effort to work with our side of the aisle to accommodate any of our concerns.”
Subcommittee ranking member Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said the bill is designed to “target the most vulnerable in our society for the deepest cuts.”
"Cuts to programs that improve our schools and combat child abuse, substance abuse, elder abuse, mental health issues, teen pregnancy and domestic violence are all devastating,” she said. She blasted Rehberg for not consulting her at all and for including nearly two dozen policy riders.
“The House Republican bill seems to be less about appropriations than a far-right, ideological rant against workers and women," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) Senate Appropriations labor, heath chairman said. "I am disappointed that once again, we will have to fight the same old battles over Planned Parenthood, NPR, worker protections, and health care reform – battles that were already resolved in last year’s bill.”
Overall, the bill cuts the Department of Labor budget by $497 million, the Department of Health and Human Services by $1.3 billion and the Department of Education by $1.1 billion.
It does not cut some of the most popular programs, shielding the GOP from some criticism. Head Start is increased as are college Pell Grants. The National Institutes of Health and community health centers are given the same funding as last year and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gets a bump up of $66 million. Veterans employment gets a slight increase.
But other areas are slashed. The bill ends Obama’s signature Race to the Top education initiative and cuts millions from advanced appropriations for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds NPR and PBS. The agency that monitors child labor abroad is cut by 68 percent and the agency that distributes Social Security payments gets cut by $764 million.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services gets $1.4 billion less than Obama was seeking and the bill prevents it from implementing “Obamacare” including setting up a new Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight.
The bill contains many riders that will infuriate unions. It prohibits project labor agreements for federal construction projects and ends a regulation dealing with legal advice for employers during unionization campaigns. It also stops National Labor Relations Board actions related to micro-unions, secret ballots, snap elections and card check which the GOP says allows unions to coerce employees during unionization drives.
Last year, Rehberg was unable to find cuts deep enought to pass a labor, health bill out of subcommittee. He never held a markup and instead posted a draft online. This year, Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) has indicated she is willing to compromise making passage out of subcommittee possible.
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) will vote against the bill, his office said.
This story was updated at 1:01 p.m.