Controversial labor, health bill clears House subcommittee

A controversial GOP spending bill with deep cuts to labor, health and education programs cleared an appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday by a 8 to 6 vote.

All subcommittee Democrats voted against the 2013 Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill, as did conservative Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who wanted deeper cuts.

The $150 billion bill cuts $6.3 billion from current levels of spending in the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Departments and is part of Republican efforts to rein in government spending – an important message for the GOP on the campaign trail.

Democrats, on the other hand, plan to highlight the bill as the clearest example of the GOP balancing the budget by hurting the poor and protecting the wealthy from tax increases. 

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The legislation 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 President 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. It also would cut funding for Planned Parenthood if the organization continued to provide abortions.

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.

The bill also forbids Obama's healthcare law from being implemented and counts $8.6 billion in savings from that action.

Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Flake, who is running for the Senate, argued that using the savings from not implementing the healthcare law to justify other spending was a “gimmick.”

Lummis offered an amendment that would dedicate all those savings to deficit reduction, forcing an additional 5.5 percent cut to all other programs in the bill.  

The total cuts in the bill would have reached $15 billion if the amendment had been adopted.

That amendment was defeated on a voice vote after subcommittee Chairman Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), who is running as a centrist in a tight race for Sen. Jon Tester’s (D-Mont.) seat, argued against the deeper cut.  Lummis ultimately voted for the bill despite her criticisms.

Rehberg said the across-the-board cut would penalize smaller, efficient programs especially, and he was supported by Democrats in defeating the Lummis effort.

That was it for bipartisanship during the meeting, which ranked as one of the most divisive the House Appropriations Committee has held in this Congress.

Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and Ranking Member Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) put aside their long friendship amid the heated rhetoric and landed some blows.

Rogers chastised Dicks at one point for “saying we should not be cutting, we should be increasing,” and he noted the failure of the Obama stimulus package to live up to its promises.

Dicks said that instead of $700 billion in spending the stimulus bill should have been $1.5 trillion.       

“He’s doubled down!” Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) exclaimed.

“Now that the Supreme Court has ruled how much further should we keep fighting these battles,” Dicks argued during the debate on the healthcare law implementation.

“While the Supreme Court upheld this law last month, it does not mean that Obamacare is good policy,” Rogers said.

Rogers said that the bill was a “tough bill, no doubt about it,” and admitted that “important programs are cut.” He praised Rehberg for having a “keen eye” in finding savings to “right-size” federal programs.

“The American people are well aware that runaway government spending is hurting the economic recovery and costing American jobs,” Rehberg said.

He said his bill combats an “out of control anti-business agenda this administration continues to foist on small businesses, the engine of job growth in this country.”

Ranking member Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) called the bill a “reckless document” that will “vastly increase the pain and suffering of our most vulnerable Americans” and referred to it as the “Rehberg reflection of the Ryan-Romney budget.”

She lambasted the GOP for bringing forward the bill on the same day the House is considering a defense bill with more money than the Pentagon wants.

“It represents a new low for this committee,” she said. “It would roll back the clock in ways that even Ronald Reagan administration would have blanched at.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Lummis engaged in a skirmish over whether children’s access to healthcare should be cut or whether millionaires should see tax increases.

“The job of this committee is to support and protect the wellbeing of the American people,” Lee said.

Lummis said that she is for eliminating corporate tax breaks as part of tax reform but said Lee and others need to realize Congress is saddling future generations with too much debt.

The committee considered and voted down a host of Democratic amendments. One by Dicks would have stripped all the riders from the bill.

One by Lee would have ended a rider that prevents funding for Planned Parenthood if it continues to provide abortions.

One by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) would have stopped a rider aimed at preventing a rule that could require home health aides to be paid overtime work.

One by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) would have eliminated a rider aimed at stopping the executive branch from forcing any insurers to provide contraceptive coverage. Lowey argued that as written it could allow insurers to refuse to provide mental health or other coverage, beyond contraception.

The Labor, HHS bill is the last of the 12 annual spending bills to appear in the House and it heads to full committee next week. The full House is considering the Defense spending bill on Wednesday, the seventh bill to reach the floor. The Senate is not planning to consider any of its 12 bills before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.


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