GOP delays controversial Labor-Education-HHS bill, but says it is close

House Republicans delayed the release Wednesday of their most controversial spending bill. 

The $121 billion Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending bill was supposed to be released Wednesday ahead of a Thursday subcommittee markup. The bill cuts those agencies by 19 percent below the level already imposed by automatic sequestration cuts. 

A GOP aide said the rollout was delayed because of uncertainty over when a Transportation spending bill is coming to the floor, but Democrats suggest that internal squabbling by the GOP is to blame.

In an exclusive interview, subcommittee Chairman Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) said the bill was “almost” completely drafted, and that Republicans were not arguing over details. 

“We are ready to go. This is just about the calendar,” he said. “We are braced for Democratic reaction and for criticism.”

Kingston said the GOP strongly believes in its provisions in the bill that would defund ObamaCare, restrict an “out of control” National Labor Relations Board and reforms waste in the Education Department.

Republicans are keeping to the budget ceilings dictated by the 2011 Budget Control Act, which imposed automatic spending cuts across the government. 

But they are increasing Defense funding next year, and imposing greater cuts to domestic spending to compensate. 

In defending the bill on Wednesday, Kingston noted that Democrats voted for the 2011 Budget Control Act that put it all in place.  

As for the overall spending cut, he said, “Maybe this can get Obama to come to the table and start to negotiate.”

“He is an absentee manager. He only shows up when we get to a fiscal cliff,” he said. 

Kingston has publicly acknowledged that the cuts in the bill are going to be the toughest of the year, and he has called for entitlement reform to take the fiscal pressure off the labor and health programs. 

The delay of the bill’s rollout led to sharp exchanges during a separate State Department funding markup on Wednesday. It came as Kingston proposed withholding 25 percent of some federal worker salaries until contracts in Afghanistan are audited.

“Maybe we should withhold 25 percent of your salary until you file a Labor, HHS bill,” Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said.

Kingston jokingly said he would support the amendment. 

“We are working very hard on our subcommittee,” he said.

“We need two teams on the field,” Kingston added in a statement that suggested Democrats on the subpanel were not cooperating in producing the bill.

“We are on the field, Jack!” fiery Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) shouted.

Her office released a scathing statement on the delay.

“Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee announced this morning that tomorrow’s markup of the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education bill has been indefinitely postponed,” it said. 

“Shame on them. Shame on them for putting forward this façade of a budget. Shame on them for gutting funding for education, health and labor programs to such a low level that they cannot even defend their own proposals,” DeLauro said. 

The Senate has proposed ignoring the sequester cuts and adding to the Labor and HHS accounts. It would provide $164 billion in funding, some $43 billion more than in the House. It also fully funds ObamaCare, which the House does not want to fund.

The difference guarantees some kind of stopgap spending bill when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

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