AUCD Legislative News InBrief

November 19, 2007

Congressional schedule

Congress is in recess for two weeks for the Thanksgiving holiday.  When Congress reconvenes on December 3, much of its time will be spent on appropriations and a backlog of must-do bills.  Only one of 12 annual appropriations bills (defense) has been signed into law.   Meanwhile, government programs continue at current levels until Dec. 14 while the Congress and the White House continue to negotiate on overall spending levels for discretionary programs.  Congress will also consider bridge funding for military operations; other possibilities include SCHIP and an energy package. 



Late Thursday the House failed, on a vote of 277-141 (just 2 short of two-thirds), to override the President's veto of the FY 2008 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Conference report that would have provided nearly $10 billion more than the President's budget for health, education and workforce programs and about $6.2 billion more than current funding levels, including a $4.4 million increase for the University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities.


The White House reacted coolly to a proposal from Democratic leaders to split the difference between their budget proposals.  When Congress returns next week, Democratic leaders plan to put together an omnibus package consisting of the 11 remaining spending bills totaling $484 billion.  The new funding level would be $10 billion less in overall spending on the remaining bill if they split the difference.  Under new proposed subcommittee allocations distributed Thursday, the individual spending bills would share the pain differently. The new Labor-HHS spending allocation would be almost $147.2 billion, about $3.5 billion less than the conference bill just vetoed -- but still much closer to its original allocation than Bush's budget request of $140.9 billion.  The new allocation is 2.4 percent below the original but about a 1.8 percent above current Labor-HHS spending -- not enough to keep up with inflation, demonstrating how steeply the President's proposed cuts would be.  AUCD will continue to monitor the negotiations and its impact on programs important to people with disabilities.



It appears that negotiators could not reach a deal to reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) before adjourning for recess.  House Republicans seeking changes to an SCHIP bill presented Senate Finance Committee members with their "final offer" last Thursday.  It was still being vetted hours before the House adjourned.  However, according to Democratic staff reports the bill does not cover the requisite 10 million children, which is a deal-breaker.  There is also concern that the Republican proposal still may not have the support of enough Republican members to override an expected veto.  If a deal is not reached by December 14, Congress may consider another continuing resolution.  However, without any additional money some states will begin to see shortfalls in covering current children in the program by March.   


Medicaid and Medicare

If SCHIP reauthorization does not go forward, another vehicle is needed for the 2-year moratorium on proposed Medicaid rules on rehabilitation and school-based services.  AUCD is working with other members of the CCD Health and Long-Term Services and Supports Task Forces on a Senate "Dear Colleague" letter by Sens. Sanders, Casey, and Collins addressed to Finance Chairman Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member Grassley (R-IA) urging them to include the moratorium in a Medicare bill that will address physician payments.  The letter currently has 39 signatures.  In addition, the CCD Health Task force is preparing a letter that will include other Medicare recommendations for the Finance Committee.       


Higher Education Act

Last week the House Education and Labor Committee passed a bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act by a unanimous vote (45-0).  While a number of amendments were introduced during mark up, members expressed strong bi-partisan support for the bill.  The bill increases the transparency of rising college tuition rates, creating a "watch list" of schools whose increases outpace the norm.  The bill also bars lenders from offering gifts and revenue sharing to colleges, simplifies the student loan application, extends Pell grants year-round, and expands funding for graduate studies at historically black and other schools serving minority students.  Overall, the bill is similar to the Senate version, which passed in July also by a unanimous vote (95-0).  The House bill includes the disability provisions on postsecondary education that are included in the Senate bill.  These include an expansion of the current demonstration projects, addition of new demonstration projects for students with intellectual disabilities, a coordinating center for the projects for students with intellectual disabilities, and access to financial aid for students with intellectual disabilities in postsecondary programs.  In addition, the House bill also included a new TA Center on postsecondary education for students with disabilities, a GAO study to look into barriers for students with disabilities, and a new commission and demonstration projects on accessible materials.  The next step is for the bill to go to the House floor for a vote.


Head Start

Legislation to reauthorize and expand Head Start is on its way to President Bush's desk following overwhelming approval last Wednesday in the House and Senate.  The conference report on the bill, authorizing $7.35 billion for the program in FY08, $7.5 billion in FY09 and $7.9 billion in FY10, passed the House on a 381-36 vote.  A few hours later the Senate followed suit, 95-0.  The President is expected to sign the bill, although the White House protested that it did not include language allowing faith-based organizations enrolled in the program to hire staff on the basis of religion.


ADA Restoration

Last Thursday the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing on the ADA Restoration Act (S. 1881).  While poorly attended by Committee Members (only Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) attended) the hearing delivered a strong message for the record.  The room was packed. Witnesses included: John Kemp, Dick Thornburgh (Attorney General under Former President George H.W. Bush), Steven Orr (a pharmacist with Type 1 diabetes from South Dakota who was fired by Wal-Mart), Camille Olson (an attorney and professor from Chicago who offered an oppositional viewpoint), and Chai Feldblum( law professor at Georgetown University Law Center).  Testimony and an archived webcast are located at the following link: .  AUCD has prepared an action alert to encourage House and Senate members to co-sponsor the ADA restoration act:


New Hampshire Disability Presidential Candidate Forum

The transcript of "A National Forum on Equality, Opportunity, and Access," the presidential candidate forum that took place in Manchester, NH two weeks ago, is now available on the AAPD website. The transcript is currently available in two large files - one of the morning hours and one of the afternoon hours. 


2008 Disability Policy Seminar

Save the date!  Planning is underway for the 2008 Disability Policy Seminar.  The event will be March 2-4, 2008 in Washington, DC.  An invitation will be emailed separately with more information.