House panel passes spending bill to fund labor, health, education programs in 2020

May 8, 2019

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday passed its first spending bill for fiscal year 2020, as Democrats staked out an opening bid in next year’s appropriations process by signing off on a measure to fund labor, health, and education programs.

The approximately $190 billion in discretionary funding in the bill is close to $12 billion more than in 2019 and almost $48 billion more than what President Trump had proposed in his 2020 spending plan.

Though the bill includes provisions unlikely to be supported by either Mr. Trump or the GOP-led Senate, Democrats said the move marks a significant step forward in the spending process for fiscal 2020, which starts on Oct. 1.

“We are turning the page on the shutdowns and showdowns that have defined the last two years,” said Rep. Nita Lowey, the New York Democrat who chairs the committee.

Aside from Defense, the Labor-HHS-Education measure is the largest of the 12 individual spending bills lawmakers are supposed to pass each year to fund discretionary programs, which comprise about one-third of the federal budget. The bulk of federal spending goes toward mandatory programs like Medicare and Social Security that are largely left on autopilot.

The bill that passed committee Wednesday also included several provisions that deal with guns an issue House Democrats have pushed aggressively since re-taking the majority earlier this year.

The measure provides $8.3 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about $921 million more than in 2019 which includes $25 million to support “firearm injury and mortality prevention research.”

The measure also includes $25 million for similar research within the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Overall, NIH received about $41.1 billion, a $2 billion boost from 2019.

“After decades of inaction, I am particularly pleased this bill would finally provide funding a total of $50 million to be exact...for evidence-based research on firearm injury prevention,” Ms. Lowey said.

Congress has included longstanding language in annual funding bills that bars federal money from going toward efforts that advocate or support gun control.

It doesn’t explicitly ban the federal government from looking into gun violence. But researchers have generally steered clear of the issue altogether, wary of crossing any lines.

A report accompanying the bill also directs Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to issue guidance clarifying that federal funds can’t be used “for the purchase of firearms or for firearms training,” after the administration had expressed an interest in arming teachers as part of its response to recent school shootings.

Among other items, the bill also includes $400 million for Title X grant funding an increase of about $113.5 million from 2019 some of which goes toward groups like Planned Parenthood.

Federal money generally can’t be used to directly fund abortions, but Republicans have long pushed to zero out federal funding for outfits like Planned Parenthood that do offer abortion services.

A federal judge last month had blocked a rule from the Trump administration that would have put new restrictions on Title X funding recipients’ ability to refer patients to abortion providers.

The bill also included $21 million for Special Olympics education programs a $3.5 million increase from 2019.

Ms. DeVos had defended the proposed cuts to the program under Mr. Trump’s 2020 budget proposal, before the president himself said he had “overridden” his people and pledged to restore the funding for the Special Olympics, a longtime athletic program for people with intellectual disabilities.

Rep. Tom Cole said the bill does support some worthwhile initiatives, but questioned whether the funding boost could be maintained over time.

“I remain concerned that it’s been developed in a vacuum that will not be sustainable over the long run,” said Mr. Cole, Oklahoma Republican.

The appropriations panel on Wednesday also voted to allocate specific dollar amounts for each of the 12 subcommittees to work off when writing their individual 2020 spending bills.

Overall, discretionary spending would see an increase of approximately $51 billion compared to 2019 levels under the Democrats’ plan.

But overshadowing the 2020 spending talks are strict budget caps Congress imposed on itself in 2011 that are set to ratchet down by about $125 billion in fiscal 2020.

House Democrats are working off of a top-line discretionary spending number of nearly $1.3 trillion, even though they have yet to strike a deal with the GOP-led Senate to increase the caps, as Congress has done multiple times in the past.

“The work of this committee is too important for us to sit on our hands and wait for the Senate and White House to work with us on a bipartisan budget agreement,” Ms. Lowey said.

But Mr. Cole said it makes more sense to work out a broad deal on the top-line spending number first before moving forward on how to divvy up specific pieces of the pie.

He said he feared that the process could end with a year-long stopgap bill, deep cuts that would be triggered if lawmakers don’t agree to increase the caps, or yet another government shutdown.

“None of these is an acceptable outcome, in my opinion,” he said.