Obey suggests education, labor, health programs could face $3.5B in cuts

The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee warned education, health and labor programs could be cut by an additional $3.5 billion from President Barack Obama’s budget request. 

Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said groups pressing Congress to add $14 billion to Obama’s proposals for the Departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services are going to be disappointed given the political need felt by members in both parties to cut the record budget deficit. 

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“We won’t be able to increase this bill by $14 billion, as a lot of you are going to be asking today — we’re going to have to cut this bill by about $3.5 billion,” Obey said in his opening statement for a subcommittee hearing Wednesday. “And that means $3.5 billion below Obama’s budget.”

Obey made it clear that he thought many of the requests for additional funding for health services and educational programs should be funded on their merits. But he also insisted it would not be possible, given the political climate.

Voters and members of Congress alike are fixated on the federal budget deficit, and see cutting it as a higher priority than spending money to reduce what Obey described as deficits in healthcare, education and science. 

Obey added that he’s retiring after four decades in Congress in large part because he’s “tired of producing bills that are inadequate to meet the needs of the country.”

 Obama has asked for a discretionary spending freeze, while Republicans and conservative Blue Dog Democrats want to make deeper cuts to parts of the budget than what Obama proposed. Blue Dogs have been asking to cut overall non-security discretionary spending in Obama’s budget by 2 percent for the next three years. 

The administration’s requested health, labor and education appropriations bill totals $153 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The $3.5 billion cut would represent a 2.3 percent reduction.

The chairman’s opening remarks visibly worried many of the groups seeking funding.

“It would be devastating,” said Peggy Troy, the president and CEO of the Children’s Hospital and Health System in Milwaukee. “We count on that money to really support our efforts, and those kinds of budget cuts will really impact all of us.”

Troy testified about the importance of the Children’s Hospitals Graduate Medical Education program, which has a five-year authorization worth $330 million in fiscal 2011. 

Others vowed to fight against the cuts. 

“Nothing’s done until it’s done,” said Lawrence McAndrews, president and CEO of the National Association of Children’s Hospitals and Related Institutions, which also supports the medical education program. 

McAndrews said hospital officials meet regularly with members of Congress and will object to seeing their programs cut. Many Blue Dogs represent rural districts where hospitals are sometimes the largest employer.