Legislative News InBrief

March 19, 2007

Vol. VII, Issue 12

FY 2008 Budget
The Senate Budget Committee approved the FY 2008 budget resolution on a party-line vote on March 15. The resolution, crafted by Chairman Conrad (D-ND), would add approximately $18 billion more in discretionary spending than the President's proposal. Overall, Conrad's proposed budget provides $150 billion more in spending with increases in education, veteran's benefits, and children's health. Additionally, the proposal claims that it would produce a budget surplus of $132 billion in five years, primarily through closing the tax gap (taxes owed but not collected), shutting down tax shelters, and addressing offshore tax havens. The proposal provides $50 billion to SCHIP to continue coverage of individuals in the program and expand coverage to all eligible children.

The proposed budget resolution also contains no reconciliation instructions to make cuts in entitlement programs. Republicans offered a number of amendments that were defeated, including amendments to reduce Medicare provider payments and increase Medicare prescription drug premiums for higher-income seniors. Instead, Conrad (D-ND) and Judd (R-NH), the ranking minority member on the Committee, agreed to a 16-member, bi-partisan commission to look at entitlement and tax policies which would submit a report by September 1. Additional amendments are expected to be proposed when the resolution goes to the Senate floor. Conrad indicated that he "can't lose a single vote" among Democrats on the floor.

House Budget Chairman John Spratt (D-SC) will release his budget plan this week with the committee mark-up scheduled for March 21 and full floor consideration scheduled for the following week.

Supplemental War Appropriations
The House is set to take up the $124 billion supplemental spending bill this week. The bill provides $95.5 billion for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and more than $20 billion for domestic priorities, including veterans' health care, agriculture relief, SCHIP shortfalls, and low-income heating assistance. The Senate Appropriations Committee will take up its version of the bill March 22. Passage of the supplemental bill has been complicated by a provision added that would set timelines for removing U.S. troops from Iraq by August 2008.

Early in March, Representatives James Langevin (D-RI) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN) circulated a "Dear Colleague" letter to every member of the House of Representatives asking them to sign on to a letter to the Appropriations Committee supporting the highest possible level of funding for the UCEDD and LEND programs. This letter to the Appropriations Committee has now been submitted with a total of 17 signatures. They are: Langevin (D-RI), Ramstad (R-MN), Dennis Moore (D-KS), Don Young (R-AK), Tom Allen (D-ME), Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), John Conyers (D-MI), Vic Snyder (D-AR), Bill Delahunt (D-MA), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Betty Sutton (D-OH), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Julia Carson (D-IN), Medeleine Bordallo (D-GU), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), and Stephanie Herseth (D-SD). Confusion with new "earmark" rules made this effort more challenging but your efforts paid off! Thanks to those of you who wrote, emailed, called, and visited your Representatives urging them to sign this letter (41 letters were emailed through the action center).

Autism Services Bill
Senators Clinton (D-NY) and Allard (R-CO) plan to introduce a bill this week to develop and provide effective treatments, interventions, supports and services to individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their families. The bipartisan Expanding the Promise to Individuals with Autism Act provides demonstration grants to states to provide immediate assistance to individuals and their families, as well as demonstration grants that will result in a long-term services and supports system that will enable individuals to participate fully in the community. The bill also expands the capacity of University Centers to focus on interdisciplinary training of professionals and providers in the area of autism, provide technical assistance, and disseminate information on effective community-based treatment, interventions, and services in this area. AUCD sent letters of support to Clinton and Allard today.

NCLB Reauthorization
The Senate HELP and House Education and Labor Committees held a joint hearing last week on reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. Witnesses included former Georgia Governor and Co-Chair of the Aspen NCLB Commission, Roy Barnes. He discussed the Commission's recommendation opposing the Administration's proposed 2% rule, indicating his fear that without accountability children in special education would become an "invisible population." During questioning there was a great deal of interest and support from the panel for looking at growth models which would track an individual child's growth or progress from year to year.

The Department of Education has conducted pilot projects on growth models and other options also exist. The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) is exploring the issue of growth models for individuals with disabilities in order to offer comments and recommendations. View testimony and video of the hearing.

While there was overwhelming bi-partisan support for NCLB at the hearing, some Republican members have recently broke ranks with the Administration and expressed dissatisfaction with NCLB. The House Education and Labor Committee will hold another hearing on NCLB this week.

Head Start
The House Education and Labor Committee overwhelmingly approved a bill to reauthorize the Head Start program. 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. The Senate HELP committee passed a reauthorization bill last month. The House and Senate versions are largely similar. While no floor votes are scheduled, reauthorization is expected to move quickly.

GINA Moving Forward in the House
The Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA) (H.R. 493) faces its second of three committee reviews this week when it is scrutinized by the full House Energy and Commerce Committee. The bill prohibits employers and insurance companies from using genetic information to discriminate against hiring or providing insurance coverage. Last week, GINA was approved by the Health subcommittee, and in the process was amended to exclude long-term care insurance, limiting the coverage to health insurance, and further amended to ban genetic information from being treated as a pre-existing condition, a potential loophole in the legislation. It has already passed the Education and Labor committee and will still need approval from the House Ways and Means committee before going to the full House for a vote.

Support for GINA appears strong in the House, but these amendments are certain to come under discussion again during full committee consideration. The Bush Administration favors enactment of genetic information nondiscrimination legislation. As recently as January 17th of this year, President Bush said, "I really want to make it clear to the Congress that I hope they pass legislation that makes genetic discrimination illegal."

Changing Medicare's "In the home" Restriction on Mobility Devices
Congressmen Langevin (D-RI) and Ramstad (R-MN) are preparing to introduce the "Medicare Independent Living Act" to eliminate the discriminatory restriction in Medicare against individuals with long-term mobility needs. Currently, Medicare's "in the home" rule restricts coverage of mobility devices to only those needed for certain in-home activities, such as for preparing meals or brushing teeth, while individuals who may be able to move around their home without a mobility device, but require a device to go to work, school, the grocery store, or anywhere in the community, are not eligible. This restriction unfairly confines many individuals with disabilities to their homes and sharply contradicts community-based initiatives such as the Olmstead Supreme Court decision, Ticket-to-Work Program, New Freedom Initiative, and Americans with Disabilities Act.

Medicaid Rehabilitation Services
AUCD signed on to a CCD letter to the House Budget Committee asking for a "sense of Congress" resolution in the FY 2008 Budget Resolution. The resolution would oppose the issuance of a regulation cutting the Medicaid rehabilitative services option by $2.2 billion over the next five years. Over 40 states use this option to finance an array of critical community-based services for persons with disabilities, including individuals with developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and serious mental illnesses. These services are essential to reducing physical and mental disabilities as well as to maintain the health and daily functioning of people with disabilities in the community. Shifting $2.2 billion to states could have a drastic affect on services for people with developmental and other disabilities. The "sense of Congress" resolution is the first step in what might be a long battle to prevent the Administration from making cuts to these services.

Medicaid Waiver Transparency
AUCD signed on to a Medicaid Coalition letter to Finance Committee Chairman Baucus and Ranking Member Grassley thanking them for their commitment to legislation that brings more transparency and accountability to the Section 1115 waiver process for the Medicaid and SCHIP programs.

Supporting Transition for Youth with Disabilities
The CCD Ad Hoc Transition Task Force, of which AUCD is a member, has provided a detailed response to the "Notice of Proposed Priority and Definitions" that the Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) recently published. The Notice describes a proposed priority for the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) to use in funding "Model Demonstration Projects to Improving the Postsecondary and Employment Outcomes of Youth with Disabilities." The Task Force commended OSERS and RSA for making transition a priority for discretionary funding. It offered a set of suggestions for ensuring successful program implementation, including considerations for the make-up of state collaborations, inclusion of assistive technology in state plans, the inclusion of institutions of higher education among allowable applicants, and the inclusion of internships as valuable pre-employment experiences for youth with disabilities.

International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The United Nations has adopted the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (ICRPD) and this treaty will open for signature on March 30, 2007. The ICRPD is a vital new instrument for the advancement of rights and opportunities for the more than 600 million people with disabilities globally, and is the first United Nations human rights treaty ever to comprehensively address the rights of persons with disabilities.

The U.S. delegation to the UN was reportedly a valuable resource during the convention's six-year journey to UN adoption but, at this time, the Bush Administration has not indicated whether it would sign the treaty. Not signing the treaty would be a departure from the historic role of the U.S. as an international leader in the field of disability and human rights and may inadvertently discourage other countries from signing it. AUCD has posted a resource on our Legislative Advocacy Action Center website to assist advocates who wish to contact the administration and their Congressmen to encourage the United States to sign the treaty.