Labor-HHS funding bill advances for the first time in six years

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The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday advanced a $153 billion bill funding the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Education and Labor for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

It marks the first time in six years the full committee advanced a funding measure for those departments, which would receive $3.7 billion less than current funding levels and $14.6 billion less than President Obama’s request for fiscal 2016.

Appropriators advanced the bill in a 30-21 vote after a nearly seven-hour markup.

The bill targets ObamaCare by blocking discretionary funding to the healthcare law — a key elemnet of the law which the Supreme Court is expected to rule on in the next week.

The provisions would not end ObamaCare’s subsidies for buying insurance, but block federal employees from enforcing the law. The salaries of those workers are paid through the appropriations bill.

Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said the measure terminates unnecessary programs, trims back lower-priority areas and prevents tax dollars from paying for burdensome regulations.

“If you look at the bill carefully, it is an affront to women, families and all hard-working Americans,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the panel.

“A vote for this bill is a vote to deny health insurance to nearly 16 million people,” added Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the top Democrat on the subcommittee that oversees the bill.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla), the chairman of that subcommittee, touted the measure’s proposed $1.1 billion increase to the National Institutes of Health and proposed $140 million increase to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC’s funding is prioritized to address bioterror attacks and pandemic disease emergencies. Amid the Ebola crisis last fall, a number of lawmakers called for increases to health and science research.

Under the bill, the Labor Department would receive $206 million less than current levels and the Education Department would receive a $2.8 billion cut.

Head Start would receive $8.8 billion more than this year and the Social Security Administration would get $12 million more than current levels. The bill also funds job training programs for young people and veterans, special education programs, charter schools programs and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Democrats blasted various policy provisions, known as riders, in the bill, including one that would block funding to the NLRB for implementing proposed rules; one that would ensure any new HHS dietary guidelines are only focused on food and nutrients with a “sound scientific evidence base;” and one that would prohibit the Education Department from establishing a college ratings system.

During the Wednesday markup, Republicans blocked amendments from Democrats that would boost and restore funding for family planning programs, teen pregnancy prevention programs, human trafficking programs and ObamaCare, among others.

Republicans also blocked an amendment that would reverse a nearly 20-year-old law that bans federal funding to the CDC to conduct gun violence research.

GOP lawmakers largely opposed many of the amendments because they would have breached sequestration spending ceilings imposed by a 2011 law. They noted that the proposals, with no offsets, would kill the spending bill.

The House has so far passed six out of a dozen spending bills for the next fiscal year while the Senate has passed none.

Last week, Senate Democrats successfully blocked a bill that would fund the Pentagon, because it was based on sequestration budget caps and used a war fund to boost defense spending.

Senate Democrats have pledged to reject all GOP-sponsored funding bills until a deal is reached to ease the spending caps.

Congress must pass new spending by Oct. 1.