On October 23, 2007, the Senate passed its version of the Fiscal Year 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS) spending bill (HR 3043) by a vote of 75–19. Similar to the bill that passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee in June, the bill included a decrease of $28 million for abstinence-only-until-marriage funding, an increase of $17 million for Title X family planning funding, and various increases for parts of the Ryan White CARE Act. The House of Representatives approved its version of the Labor-HHS bill back in July which increased funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage under the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) funding stream by $28 million.
Senate Debates Numerous Amendments
During consideration of Labor-HHS on the Senate floor, Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) offered an amendment to the Labor-HHS bill that would have required that all abstinence-only-until-marriage programs receiving federal funding provide only medically accurate information. Supporters of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs were adamantly opposed to the amendment claiming that it would mean the end to their programs.
“We thank Senators Lautenberg and Snowe for their strong commitment to the health and education of young people,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS. “If simply requiring medical accuracy would effectively gut these programs, they clearly have bigger problems than we ever imagined,” continued Smith.
On the flip side, several anti-sexual and reproductive health and rights amendments were filed by Senators David Vitter (R-LA), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Jim DeMint (R-SC). Senator Vitter filed two amendments that attacked Title X family planning funding. The first stated that no Title X funds may go to a Planned Parenthood clinic and the second amendment provided a general prohibition on Title X funds going to any entity that provides abortions, except where a woman’s life is in danger. This amendment was voted down on the Senate floor by a vote of 41–52. Senator Vitter chose not to offer the amendment specifically attacking Planned Parenthood after the broader anti-choice amendment failed.
Senator Brownback filed two amendments, one which would have restored the Senate’s decrease of $28 million for the CBAE account, and another focused on Title X and state mandated reporting laws.
Senator DeMint filed a series of amendments that would have prohibited any funds under the Labor-HHS bill from going to schools that provide contraception to young people ages 13–18. A similar amendment was filed by Senators DeMint and Brownback which would have prohibited local education agencies that receive funding under the Labor-HHS bill from providing access to birth control, including condoms, to most teens.
In the end, the Lautenberg/Snowe medical accuracy amendment was withdrawn in exchange for all of the amendments filed by Senators Brownback and DeMint being withdrawn. Senators Lautenberg and Snowe, as well as advocates working on the amendment, were confident that the medical accuracy amendment would have passed, however, it was not clear whether the Senate would have been able to vote down all of Senator DeMint’s amendments, particularly those that specified students of younger ages.
House and Senate Pass Conference Report; Provide Increase for CBAE Program
On November 1, 2007, House and Senate conferees met to consider the Labor-HHS appropriations bill, and the two chambers sorted out the discrepancies between their respective bills. Disappointingly, lawmakers ignored the Senate’s decision to cut funding for the CBAE program, and instead followed the disastrous decision in the House of Representatives bill which increased funding for these failed programs by $28 million to $141 million. The conference report also continued linking the CBAE program to the strict federal eight-point definition of “abstinence education.” In addition, the conference report provided a $28 million increase for the Title X family planning program, just over $84 million increase for the Ryan White CARE Act, and an increase of $1.1 billion for the National Institutes of Health.
“Thanks to genuine and principled leadership by Chairman Harkin (D-IA) and Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ), the Senate had made the responsible decision to reduce funding for CBAE. Members of the House had an opportunity here to right a major blunder, but, instead, opted to support programs that lie to our youth, undermine basic values, and discriminate against many members of our society, such as gays and lesbians,” said Smith. “What is worse, the increase matches the Bush administration’s request for this pet program.”
President Bush repeatedly threatened to veto the bill because the legislation exceeded his request for discretionary spending by $9.8 billion (in total the bill includes $150.7 billion in discretionary spending). In an effort to ward off this veto, House and Senate conferees made the decision to bundle the Labor-HHS bill with the $65 billion FY 2008 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (HR 2642) appropriations bill.
On November 2, 2007, the House voted 269–142 to pass the $215.4 billion budget package that included the FY 2008 Labor-HHS and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs appropriations bills. The package, however, did not pass by the two-thirds margin required to override a presidential veto, and, on the same day, President Bush reiterated his threat to veto the package.
The following day, Senate Republicans used a newly established rule to separate the Labor-HHS legislation from the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill. The Senate then voted 56–37 to pass the stand-alone Labor-HHS bill.
Because the Senate separated the two bills and voted on Labor-HHS as a stand-alone, the Labor-HHS bill then moved back to the House for a vote on the stand-alone bill. The House voted 274–141 to pass the stand-alone Labor-HHS bill, but, again, lacked the votes required to override the impending presidential veto of the legislation.
President Vetoes Labor-HHS Bill; Congress fails to override
Following through on his promise, President Bush vetoed the FY2008 Labor-HHS bill on November 13 noting that the appropriations measure “spends too much” and “continues to fund programs that are duplicative or ineffective.” The bill then went back to the full House for another vote where, as speculated, there were not enough votes to override the veto. In fact, the House override vote of 277–141 fell just two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed.
“There is much that is good in this bill. But politics of the worst sort were employed to try to gain Republican support by funding programs that have been unequivocally shown to be an enormous waste of taxpayer money because they do not work. It is now clear that this was a failed strategy,” said Smith. “Now that President Bush has carried through on his threat to veto this bill, and Congress showed that they did not have the votes to override the veto, Congress has yet another opportunity to do the right thing, and we look forward to working with them to those ends,” concluded Smith.
House and Senate Democrats are now discussing a possible omnibus appropriations bill, which would combine the remaining 11 appropriations bill that have yet to be completed into one large package, for completion in December.