Legislative News InBrief

April 30, 2007

Supplemental War Appropriations
Last week the House approved the supplemental appropriations conference report (219-208 vote) followed by the Senate (51-46 vote). The President is expected to veto the conference report as early as tomorrow due to the language concerning troop withdrawal. Upon veto, the House is expected to attempt an override, but Democrats clearly lack the votes to achieve a required two-thirds majority in either chamber. Democratic leaders are considering several post-veto options. Options include compromise to soften the language or possibly offering shorter-term appropriations. To a lesser extent, the President has also threatened a veto over the additional domestic spending in the bill. However, roughly half of this spending is for defense and security, such as veteran's health care and armored vehicles for the military. The report sent to the President also includes the minimum wage increase, Work Opportunity Tax Credit, and funding for SCHIP shortfalls. While there is uncertainty, Representative Murtha (D-PA) indicated his intent to include these items in the second version.


FY2008 Budget Resolution
While the spotlight has been on supplemental appropriations for the war, crunch time is approaching for the FY2008 Budget Resolution. Conferees have not been appointed yet. A key sticking point concerns differences in how the House and Senate versions deal with extensions of tax cuts. The Senate plan put forward by Finance Committee Chairman Baucus (D-MT) has not gone over well in the House due to violating the pay-as-you-go rules adopted. Secondary issues include dealing with the alternative minimum tax and a small reconciliation instruction aimed at making changes in the student loan program. Democrats plan to work out compromises on these issues to achieve a budget resolution, particularly since they now control both chambers of Congress. Congress has advanced spending bills without a finalized budget blueprint in three of the past five years, including last year. Adopting a budget resolution this year is critical to people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations due to significant increases in domestic discretionary spending. The default would be last year's budget as a blueprint. House Budget Chairman Spratt (D-SC) hopes that conferees will be appointed this week, which would signal a joint resolution is near. House leadership has indicated plans to start advancing appropriations bills in subcommittees with floor action on some bills as early as the week of May 14.

Hate Crimes Prevention Act
The House is expected to vote later this week on the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2007 (HR 1592). The bill was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last Wednesday by a vote of 20-14, following 12 hours of debate and consideration of more than 20 amendments. The bill would expand hate crimes law to include sexual orientation, gender, and disability. Those convicted of such crimes could face life imprisonment if the incident resulted in death or involved a kidnapping, sexual assault or attempted murder. The bill would also authorize $5 million for FY2008 and FY2009 for grants to law enforcement agencies to help cover expenses associated with investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. The measure would also award grants to programs designed to combat hate crimes committed by juveniles. Senators Kennedy (D-MA) and Smith (R-OR) have introduced a companion bill in the Senate (S 1105). Similar language was added to crime legislation in the 109th Congress, but House Republicans leaders stripped it out before final passage (PL 109-248).

Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA)
The Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA) (H.R. 493) overwhelmingly passed in the House by a vote of 420-3. The bill prohibits employers and insurance companies from using genetic information to discriminate against hiring or providing insurance coverage. The bill previously made it's was through the House Education and Labor, Ways and Means, and Energy and Commerce Committees. The White House issued a statement that the President would sign the bill. However, Senator Coburn (R-OK) has placed a hold on the Senate version (S 358) until issues can be worked out that may concern protections to fetuses and embryos. Following lengthy negotiations, the House Energy and Commerce Committee was able to extended protections in a way that does not affect the debate over abortion laws.

Head Start
The House is expected to take up legislation this week to reauthorize Head Start (HR 1429) for the first time in a decade. The bill provides an additional $450 million to the Head Start authorization level, raises eligibility income levels from 100 percent to 130 percent of the federal poverty rate, and requires that at least 50 percent of Head Start teachers have at least a bachelor's degree by 2013. Representative Price (R-GA) may attempt to reintroduce an amendment defeated in Committee that would authorize a demonstration project that would allow states to take over their local Head Start programs. The Senate HELP committee has already passed a similar reauthorization bill.

Community Choice Act
Last Friday, the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Personal Assistance Services held a State of the Science Conference at the National Press Club. Mitchell LaPlante provided a presentation on the findings of his study that re-estimated the costs of a mandatory personal attendant services benefit under Medicaid. Nearly a decade ago, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the costs of enacting such legislation to be between $10 -$20 billion a year. LaPlante provided new estimates of $1.4 - $3.7 billion, based on reconfiguring needs for personal assistance services determined by previous research on using ADL and IADL to determine functional needs. New costs estimates could help revitalize efforts to consider the Community Choice Act. The study will be published in the Journal of Aging and Social Policy this summer. The webcast of the conference and power point presentations are available.