The House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to approve a stopgap appropriations bill that will fund federal programs for the remainder of fiscal year 2013, once the current continuing resolution (CR) expires on March 27. The big news from the bill, though, is that the House Republicans who wrote the bill missed an opportunity to effectively blunt or cancel the effects of the sequester on education programs.
The House-passed bill provides funding for education programs at the same levels signed into law at the start of fiscal year 2013, minus the March 1 across-the-board cuts that occurred under sequestration, which totaled about 5.1 percent for most education programs. In other words, the proposed bill codifies the $85 billion in spending cuts left in the wake of the sequester.
It does not need to be that way. House lawmakers could have upheld the post-sequester spending limits trigged by the 2011 budget deal without making across-the-board, universally applied cuts to education programs. Of course, they’d have to make bigger cuts elsewhere to do so – but that is what courageous budgeting is all about.
As we wrote earlier this year, education stakeholders should focus their attention on the March 27 deadline at which appropriations funding for all government agencies expires. That deadline gives Congress a built-in opportunity to rewrite the post-sequester funding levels for every federal program, just as they would through the regular annual appropriations process, while keeping within the overall spending limit that is now in place.
Based on the bill that the House passed yesterday, it looks like lawmakers took a pass on that built-in opportunity. They could have moved funding around between agencies – or even within the appropriation to the U.S. Department of Education – to reduce the impact of the funding cuts on the most critical federal education programs.
There is nothing radical in that proposal. It is what the appropriations process is supposed to be about each year. In fact, the House-passed bill does rearrange the post-sequestration funding levels for the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. Why not U.S. Department of Education and Head Start programs, too?
Fortunately, education stakeholders can ask senators that question before it’s too late. Senate lawmakers have yet to vote on the temporary funding measure, and reports suggest that Democratic leadership plans to introduce a spending bill with more changes to the post-sequester funding levels for more agencies than the House-passed version.
Time is running out, however. Congress has only three weeks – until March 27 – to reach an agreement before they risk a government shutdown. In the interim, all eyes will be on the Senate.