– Families who like better schools may lose out –
By David Rogers
The Senate sent back to the House Thursday night a stripped-down $59 billion war funding bill, after striking all of the added education assistance which Democrats had wanted to avert threatened teacher layoffs in the fall.
With the August recess looming, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) faces growing pressure from the White House and Pentagon to accept the Senate verdict and not prolong the fight any further. A final decision has yet to be made, but the Senate 51-46 roll call was devastating, showing the House that less than half the senators were on its side.
“We cannot let the perfect get in the way of the good,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) after the vote. “We are sending this bill back to the House once more, as passed originally by the Senate this past May.”
“It is my hope that they will take it up and pass it so that it can be signed by the President shortly. And we will continue to work to garner support for addressing these other critical needs.”
At a Thursday leadership meeting, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the House must confront the war bill before leaving for the recess. The emergency measure includes $33 billion needed for ongoing U.S. military operations in Afghanistan this summer, as well as billions more for civilian aid programs for the U.S. effort in the region.
In a letter to Pelosi this week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that action was needed before August to “avoid severe consequences” for the Pentagon and the temporary furloughs of thousands of defense employees. “Your efforts to avert such unacceptable circumstances are appreciated,” Gates wrote.
Forty-six Senate Democrats stood up for the House position in a test vote Thursday night, but that was far out of reach of the 60 needed to overcome a threatened Republican filibuster if the added domestic spending was not removed.
All told, $23 billion in domestic spending was added by the House on July 1, including the $10 billion to help cash-strapped local school districts avoid threatened teacher layoffs. Other appropriations lost now in the fight include border security funds, Pell Grant monies, special unemployment assistance for Gulf Coast states impacted by the BP oil spill, and billions in loan guarantees sought by the nuclear power industry. But the teacher initiative was the biggest single political force and provoked a remarkable split with President Barack Obama’s top staff.
To minimize the deficit impact, House Appropriations Committee Dave Obey (D-Wis.) came up with budget offsets of almost equal value. But these spending cuts were themselves controversial – even with the White House itself, which objected to a cut to Obama’s “Race to the Top” education program. And this and other offsets may have contributed to the nearly dozen defections among Senate Democrats.