Week Ending July 17, 2015
House Extends Highway Spending for Five Months
The House voted to extend funding for surface transportation programs through December 18 by passing H.R. 3038 by a vote of 312 to 119. The stopgap legislation provides $8 billion to reimburse states for transportation projects this year paid for by budget gimmickry such as tax compliance measures and budget treatment of Transportation Security Administration fees.
Attention now shifts to the Senate, which has until July 31 to act before the Highway Trust Fund starts to run out. If time runs out, “states will not be able to reimburse past expenses, transportation jobs across the country will be at risk, and over 4,000 U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) employees will be furloughed,” according to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA).
While there is support in the Senate to pass the House’s temporary patch, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) supports a long-term, multi-year extension of highway projects. Leaders in the House and Senate, however, have so far been unable to come up with a realistic way to finance a long-term bill, which would cost hundreds of billions of dollars. The DOT has requested $478 billion for a six-year renewal of surface transportation projects.
Senate Passes K-12 Bill With Bipartisan Support
The Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177), by a vote of 81 to 17, with solid bipartisan support. The bill increases state flexibility and eliminates the one-size-fits-all provisions from the previous Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) known as “No Child Left Behind.” S. 1177 protects federal funding for local schools and changes the previous high-stakes testing requirements. Annual testing will remain for students in grades 3 - 8 and students will be tested once in high school, but states would be responsible for creating accountability systems and determining the weight of test results in assessing school performance.
While Title I “portability,” which means having federal dollars follow a child to different public schools, was not approved, a change to Title I’s formula was included, so that funds will be based on the number of poor children in the state multiplied by the national average cost of educating a child. The new formula will not apply until Title I funding, currently around $14.5 billion, reaches $17 billion. The end result of the new formula will be lower Title I funding in 15 states including New York, Maine and Illinois, but higher funding in all other states.
Senators and Representatives appointed to a conference committee will need to work together to resolve the significant policy differences between S. 1177 and H.R. 5 and agree to a compromise package that the President will support. President Obama has pledged to veto the House-passed bill. Major differences between the two bills include different provisions on testing, accountability metrics, interventions in low-performing schools, and Title I portability.
Confederate Flag Debate Shuts Down Appropriations Work
For the first time in over a decade, both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have drafted a complete set of appropriations bills for the coming fiscal year (FY). Unfortunately, the bills for non-defense programs spanning education, health care, housing, transportation, public safety and more are seriously underfunded. In the Senate, Democrats have blocked funding bills from advancing until a budget deal is reached to replace or adjust the harmful sequester or automatic spending cuts. For the pending FY 2016, the “sequester” reduces non-defense spending by $37 billion. The “sequester” would have also shaved $54 billion from defense spending, but GOP leaders included a budget gimmick to avoid the cut.
The House has approved some appropriations bills, but the process recently ground to a halt after a group of Southern GOP members insisted upon adding language to continue to allow the Confederate flag to be flown on federal lands.
Less than 15 legislative work days remain until the end of the federal fiscal year on September 30, at which point a stopgap spending measure, known as a continuing resolution, will be needed to prevent a government shutdown. AFSCME strongly supports eliminating the “sequester” and will be working with affiliates over the August congressional break and through the fall to fight for increases in funding for public services.
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