Rehberg unveils draft of health-education budget for his subcommittee

2011-09-29T17:23:00Z 2011-09-30T00:20:07Z Rehberg unveils draft of health-education budget for his subcommittee

By MIKE DENNISON

Gazette State Bureau

The Billings Gazette
September 29, 2011 5:23 pm  • 

HELENA — U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., on Thursday released his proposed annual spending in 2012 for federal health, labor and education programs overseen by the budget panel he chairs — including proposals to defund federal health reform and cut what he called “wasteful” programs.

Rehberg’s budget proposal, released just two days before the federal fiscal 2012 year begins, also cuts federal spending on family planning programs, public broadcasting and the Corporation for National and Community Service, which administers the national volunteer program AmeriCorps.

At the same time, it increases funds for medical research, Head Start and special education in public schools.

“This bill is about investing in people and helping create the jobs they need to take care of their loved ones,” Rehberg said in a statement Thursday. “By spending tax dollars strategically, we can balance critical funding for programs that actually help people and families, with the real need to rein in government overspending.”

Rehberg chairs the House budget subcommittee on labor, health and human services and education. His proposal has $153 billion in discretionary spending — about $4 billion less than in the current federal fiscal year, which ends Friday.

Democrats quickly criticized the proposal, saying it not only comes late in the budget process, but also contains numerous nonbudgetary “riders” sure to cause controversy and make it difficult to pass.

“After a year of contentious budget debates ... there had been hope we’d be able to put all that behind us for a while and complete action on fiscal year 2012 appropriations in a reasonable, timely and cooperative manner,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee. “The Republican majority doesn’t seem to be on board for that goal.”

DeLauro said while the measure increases funding in some needed areas, it contains too many cuts that will harm vital programs.

Rehberg said Thursday he doesn’t have the votes on the committee to move the bill now, because “those on the right think it spends too much and those on the left think it doesn’t spend enough.” Republicans have an 8-5 majority on the panel.

He said he hasn’t spoken with House Republican leadership about the bill’s schedule, but that he’d like it debated before the full subcommittee or entire House Appropriations Committee.

“I wanted it out in the marketplace for discussions,” Rehberg said in an interview Thursday.

He said one reason it’s late is because “I have the toughest budget,” dealing with expensive, difficult issues and programs that people deeply care about.

Rehberg said he also had to factor in new budget numbers in the wake of the debt ceiling debate in Congress that concluded last month.

As expected, the measure proposes to “rescind” billions of dollars in spending for carrying out provisions of the federal health care reform law passed last year.

Those cuts include increased funding for community health centers, which serve low-income patients, and money financing a new, temporary “high risk” coverage pool for people who’ve been unable to find insurance because of health problems.

Rehberg said since the federal law faces a constitutional challenge, it doesn’t make sense to spend money to implement a plan that could be ruled invalid by the courts.

His bill says the money can’t be spent until the court challenges are resolved.

The bill also axes federal funding for family planning clinics, including more than a dozen in Montana.

Republicans have attacked this funding in part because some goes to Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions — although the family planning money is spent on contraception and other services, and is prohibited by law to be spent on abortions.

Rehberg said he felt the family planning money duplicates funds that are spent for Medicaid, the state-federal program that pays medical bills for the poor.

Patients using the family planning clinics don’t necessarily qualify for Medicaid.

Rehberg’s office noted that the bill received support from National Head Start Association, which praised an increase in funding, saying the panel has demonstrated “its strong commitment to at-risk children and families across the country.”

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