Canton Repository

November 18, 2005

Regula’s bill fails

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - Rep. Ralph Regula suffered a major defeat Thursday as 22 Republican lawmakers joined with every Democratic member of the House to vote down legislation that finances federal spending on education, medical research, health care and job training.

The 224-209 rejection of the legislation stunned GOP leaders, who were so confident it would pass in the Republican-led House that they skipped the usual task of lobbying Republican lawmakers to vote for it.

“They just assumed this (passage) was a given,” Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, said after the vote.

Regula, vice chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, oversaw development of the legislation in the House and served as chairman of a House-Senate panel that produced the compromise that went before the House on Thursday.

The House’s rejection of the $459.5 billion legislation marked the first time in Regula’s almost a dozen years as a senior appropriator that he has brought a spending bill to the floor only to see it defeated.

Democrats united against the bill, saying it didn’t provide enough money for education, health care and other programs.

“This bill slashed our federal investment in education, it abandoned job training programs and it fails our public health system,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said. “This bill got what it deserved.”

Taken as a whole, the bill would have raised overall spending by more than $100 billion above last year’s level of $354 billion, largely as a result of the new Medicare prescription drug benefit for older Americans.

But as part of a broader GOP effort to curb domestic spending growth, discretionary spending in the bill was actually cut below last year’s level to $142.5 billion. The amount allocated to spending bills usually increases each year in Congress, providing extra funds to cover the cost of inflation and to add activities. With less money to work with, appropriators eliminated more than 20 programs and reduced spending on others.

During debate on the bill, Democrats complained that the legislation cut education funding for the first time in 10 years, while also reducing block grants for prenatal care, assistance to states to implement the No Child Left Behind law and a host of other programs.

Republicans pointed out the measure would increase spending for special education and poor school districts, and provide more funding for Pell grants, community health centers and home energy assistance.

“This may not be everything you like, but this bill does a lot of good,” Regula said while urging other lawmakers to vote for it.

Although Democratic opposition to the legislation was expected, the almost two dozen Republicans who opposed it were a surprise.

Regula said at least eight Republicans voted against it because of their dissatisfaction with funding for rural health-care initiatives. Another three or four felt there wasn’t enough money for schools, he said.

The decision to eliminate all lawmaker-initiated projects, or earmarks, in the bill also was a factor in its defeat. Critics refer to earmarks as pork, which they consider wasteful uses of taxpayer dollars.

Two Republican lawmakers said they opposed the legislation because they lost projects for their districts.

“If you’re going to say we’re cutting earmarks, make sure they’re all cut,” said Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., who was upset that some earmarks appeared to remain in the bill while his were stripped out.

Rep. Charles W. “Chip” Pickering, R-Miss., voted no because he did not get tens of millions of dollars’ worth of health-care-related earmarks in the bill, said his spokesman, Brian Perry. Pickering also opposed the legislation because it did not provide enough for rural health care, he said.

Regula disputed allegations that the bill contained earmarks, which he and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who oversaw the legislation in the Senate, agreed not to include.

During debate over the bill, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., complained that it included projects such as $1.25 million for a center at the University of Hawaii and $2 million for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

In an interview after the defeat, Regula insisted that those provisions had been approved by authorizing committees in Congress and were not earmarks added by appropriators.

Upbeat after the vote, Regula said he will be tinkering with the legislation and expects it to win passage after the Thanksgiving recess.

“We’ll get a bill. We’ve got to have a bill,” he said. “I already know a couple of votes that have turned.”