Legislative News InBrief

March 26, 2007

FY2008 Budget Resolution
The Senate passed its FY 2008 Budget Resolution on Friday March 23, by a vote of 52-47. Many amendments were considered in a "vote-a-rama." Several of these have particular significance to people with disabilities.

A Smith (R-OR) and Kennedy (D-MA) amendment passed 58-40 that allows Congress to raise the federal tobacco tax and devote this revenue to SCHIP funding. Also, a Specter (R-PA) and Harkin (D-IA) amendment passed that increases funding for health related programs (known as function 550) by $2.2 billion (together with the increase of $1.6 billion included in the underlying resolution). An amendment by Sanders (I-VT) that would have increased funding for IDEA by $44.2 billion over five years by increasing taxes of individuals who make over $1 million a year did not pass. A number of other amendments did not pass. A Bunning (R-KY) and Grassley (R-IA) amendment could have undermined Medicaid's guarantee of EPSDT (Early, Periodic, Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment). A Chambliss (R-GA) amendment would have limited state flexibility to cover parents and childless adults and create an option to cover mental and dental health for children. A Cornyn (R-TX) amendment would have limited eligibility for SCHIP to children below 200 percent of poverty. These same issues are expected to re-emerge during SCHIP reauthorization.

The Senate resolution adds approximately $150 billion more in spending than the President's proposed budget ($18 billion more in discretionary spending) with increases in education, veteran's benefits, and children's health. Additionally, it would produce a budget surplus of $132 billion in five years by not extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. A number of reserve funds are created, including a $50 billion fund for SCHIP.

However, it is important to understand that while reserve funds indicate priorities and protect against budget points of order, they still need to be offset with other funding. Representative Spratt (D-SC) marked up a House Budget Resolution last week and the House is expected to take up the resolution as early as March 28. As opposed to the Senate "vote-a-rama" of amendments, the House will consider alternative budget plans. Overall, the proposed House budget resolution is similar to the Senate resolution, with a greater increase in domestic discretionary spending of approximately $25 billion. The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities sent a letter to Budget Committee Chairman Spratt (D-SC) in support of the House Budget Resolution.

Supplemental War Appropriations
The House passed a supplemental appropriations bill on March 23 by a close party-line vote of 218-212. The $124.3 billion 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. President Bush threatened to veto the bill due to the provisions on removing U.S. troops from Iraq by August 2008. The Senate $121.7 billion supplemental bill passed the Appropriations Committee narrowly last week and is expected to be considered on the floor early this week.

On March 20 Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Wayne Allard (R-CO) introduced S. 934, the "Expanding the Promise for Individuals with Autism Act of 2007." This critical legislation provides approximately $50 million in Fiscal Year 2008 to improve access to comprehensive treatments, interventions, and services for individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their families.

If enacted, the bill would provide supplemental training grants to University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities to increase capacity to provide interdisciplinary training to professionals providing treatment, interventions, and other supports and services to individuals with autism. It would also authorize funds for up to four new University Centers with a priority given to Minority-serving Institutions. The bill would also:

  • Convene a task force to evaluate and report on evidence-based treatments and services
  • Provide grants to states to develop and disseminate evidence-based autism treatments, interventions, supports, and services for children and adults
  • Provide funding to protection and advocacy systems to address the needs of individuals with autism
  • Create a national clearinghouse to disseminate information on evidence-based treatments, interventions, and services

The bill was referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. There is no companion bill in the House of Representatives to date.

AUCD is working to encourage more Senators to co-sponsor the bill and to urge HELP Committee Chairman Ted Kennedy (D-MA) to schedule a mark-up of the bill. For more information, see the Public Policy section of the AUCD website.

NIH Appropriations
Over 100 House Members so far have signed a letter to House Appropriations Chairman Obey (D-WI) and Ranking Member Lewis (R-CA) calling for a 6.7% increase in NIH funding in each of the next three years. An Action Alert on this issue was sent to DDRC Directors.

The Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA) (H.R. 493) was approved by the House Ways and Means Committee on March 21 and the Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23, following last minute negotiations. The bill prohibits employers and insurance companies from using genetic information to discriminate against hiring or providing insurance coverage. Issues in the Energy and Commerce Committee appeared to be resolved in a manager's amendment by Representative Pallone (D-NJ) that extended discrimination protections to fetuses and embryos and expanded the definition of family members. The bill now moves to the House Rules Committee to work out issues due to the shared jurisdiction of the bill across three different House committees before moving to the floor for a vote.

The Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Ad Hoc Task Force on Transition, of which AUCD is a participating organization, issued a letter last week to the Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) in response to a Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) Notice of Proposed Priorities and Definitions (NPPD) regarding implementation of Model Demonstration Projects to Improving the Postsecondary and Employment Outcomes of Youth with Disabilities. The letter addressed specific aspects of the NPPD, including eligibility of applicant organizations, evaluation criteria of projects, the inclusion of internships as valuable career preparatory experiences for students with disabilities, and guidelines for the make up of state interagency transition task forces. The Task Force emphasized the inclusion of Statewide Assistive Technology Projects, disability advocacy organizations, and parents of students with disabilities in the state interagency transition task forces.

Child Abuse Prevention
The Education Begins at Home Act (S. 667), introduced on February 16 by Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO), with the cosponsorship of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), is open for other Senators to join in signing on as cosponsors to the measure authorizing federal funding dedicated to help states support programs of early childhood home visitation. The following Senators have already joined Bond and Clinton on the bill: Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), John Kerry (D-MA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Pat Roberts (R-KS), John Rockefeller (D-WV), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and Ben Cardin (D-MD). All had cosponsored a similar bill in the last Congress, except for Bingaman; Cardin, newly elected to the Senate, was a sponsor of a companion measure in the House last year.

The Education Begins at Home Act would support research and evidence-based services in the home designed to secure positive outcomes for children and families, including positive parenting practices, reductions in child maltreatment, improved child health and development, and readiness for school. The voluntary, early childhood home visitation services also refer families to other community resources like child care, health and mental health services, literacy programs, employment agencies, and other social services. The Senate bill has been referred to the Senate HELP Committee. A companion bill has not yet been introduced in the House.

Section 508 Oversight
On March 14, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Technology and Telecommunications Task Force sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales urging improved oversight of accessible electronic and information technologies. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires routine review by the U.S. Dept. of Justice; however, review work is now four years late. View the letter.