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Senate Panel Freezes Head Start, Grants

The Associated Press
Thursday, July 20, 2006; 6:43 PM

WASHINGTON -- The Senate Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to freeze funding for popular education programs such as Head Start and grants to schools for poor children and those with special needs.

Job training programs would face a slight cut, and health research funded by the National Institutes of Health would receive a less than 1 percent gain over current levels.

The panel approved a bill providing $143 billion in funding for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education for the budget year beginning Oct. 1.

The so-called Labor-HHS bill was one of three domestic spending bills unanimously approved by the Appropriations panel Thursday. The others would fund the departments of Transportation, Treasury, Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development.

The panel also approved a $453 billion bill funding the Defense Department as it wrapped up its work on the 12 annual appropriations bills.

Only the defense bill is certain to come to the Senate floor soon. Most of the domestic spending bills won't be debated until after Election Day, if at all, and are likely to get bundled into a catchall bill during a lame-duck session colored by the November results.

For its work, the panel may be rewarded with veto threats from President Bush for spending too much money on domestic programs and for cutting the Pentagon's budget.

Bush proposed cuts totaling $4 billion from programs funded by the Labor-HHS and education measures and has warned of a veto over a Senate move to shift more than $11 billion from the foreign aid and Pentagon budgets to domestic agencies funded by Congress each year.

In fact, a cut of $9 billion from Bush's defense budget is likely to be rolled back in view of a Bush veto threat, which means some of the few increases spread across domestic agencies are likely to be dropped.

"Most of the modest restorations in cuts in domestic programs in the bills before us will prove illusory when funds are shifted back to Defense," said Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, longtime top Democrat on the panel.

Byrd noted that Bush's No Child Left Behind bill called for $25 billion in federal funding for local schools but that the measure approved Thursday provides just half of that.

GOP moderate Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said cuts to the labor and health bill represent the "disintegration of the appropriate federal role in health and education and worker safety."

Senators also restored $630 million in Bush-proposed cuts to grants to local community service agencies that provide assistance to the poor.

Despite the budget crunch, senators are stuffing the annual spending bills bill with thousands of homestate projects totaling billions of dollars. Last year, the Labor-HHS bill contained no such "earmarks," much to the dismay of lawmakers who wanted them for their states and home districts _ and the Washington operatives who earn rich fees by lobbying for them.

Now, the measure is expected to ultimately carry about $1 billion worth of parochial projects. The version approved Thursday contained $262 million for eight fine-print pages of homestate earmarks for health care facilities and equipment. It also has sheaves of grants for local programs combating drugs, child abuse mental illness and promoting child development.

"Economic development" grants totaling $250 million _ spanning 19 pages in a panel report detailing HUD's budget _ include $250,000 for a new planetarium at Truman State University in Missouri and $250,000 to continue restoring a 1969 reconstruction of a Christopher Wren church as a Winston Churchill memorial at Westminster College in Missouri.

The panel approved $1.4 billion for the financially ailing Amtrak passenger railroad, $500 million more than called for in Bush's budget. The panel also rejected Bush's plan to cut community development grants by $1.7 billion and restored his proposed cuts to housing programs for the elderly and disabled.

The panel approved $32.7 billion to provide Bush's 12 percent proposed increase for the rapidly growing veterans medical care program.


On the Net:

Senate Appropriations Committee: http://www.appropriations.senate.gov

© 2006 The Associated Press