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Staying Put for Social Spending

By Arlen Specter
Tuesday, February 8, 2005; Page A23

Strong advocacy for education, health care and worker safety will be indispensable if they are to get their fair share of President Bush's austere budget for the next fiscal year. I had been considering moving over to the newly created appropriations subcommittee on intelligence, but with tough fights looming on social spending, I have decided to stay with my chairmanship of the subcommittee on labor, health and human services and education.

There is no doubt that our nation's security and defeating terrorism trump all other priorities. Important work needs to be done immediately on the implementation of legislation creating the national intelligence director and prospective modification on appropriations for the intelligence community. I have had a keen interest in these subjects since chairing the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in the 104th Congress and co-authorizing the Homeland Security Act. But with the delay in appointing the new director, and with emerging doubts about the new appropriations subcommittee on intelligence, I believe I can make a greater contribution by staying put.

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The president's budget puts at risk critical funding for the National Institutes of Health and other important priorities of the subcommittee.

For more than a decade, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and I have alternated on the subcommittee chairmanship with a seamless transfer of the gavel. We have more than doubled funding for NIH, which has made enormous progress on working toward cures for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cancer, heart disease and other deadly or debilitating diseases. Those gains may be nullified unless increases in funding continue.

Funding for Pell Grants, which has received considerable public attention, is only one of many worthy education programs deserving continued support. The president's support for increased money for Pell Grants is commendable, but there is no net gain to education if those increases come from cutting or eliminating other important programs. The tight budget will make it difficult to provide adequate funding for Head Start, special education, No Child Left Behind and mentoring at-risk students.

By retaining my subcommittee chairmanship, I can maintain special standing on oversight on proposed legislation calling for the Labor Department to administer an asbestos compensation program. The prospects are good this year that Congress will create a trust fund to compensate people injured by exposure to asbestos and whose employers have gone bankrupt. The labor appropriations subcommittee will set funding for the administrative process and could play a key role in implementing the legislation.

As the United States faces enormous deficits, discretionary spending has taken hits year after year. Congressional budgeteers and appropriators have not sufficiently recognized that education and health care are capital investments. Harkin and I, putting partisanship aside, have successfully fought for more funding for our subcommittee. Fiscal 2006 looks like an especially tough year, so I've decided to stay and fight rather than switch.

The writer is a Republican senator from Pennsylvania.

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