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Democrats Lash Out at Education Funding in Labor-HHS Appprops Bill

The House was poised to pass the massive Labor-Health and Human Services-Education spending bill before adjourning for the week Thursday afternoon.

But the massive appropriations bill has drawn harsh criticism from Democrats.

“This Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill is an unmitigated betrayal of the bipartisan commitment to education in the No Child Left Behind Act,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said. “This bill falls $8 billion short of the funding authorized in that act, providing an increase that, after inflation, is tantamount to a funding freeze.”

Attempting to draw distinctions between their vision and the Republicans’, Democrats tried to offer an amendment that would reduce the tax cut for individuals making more than $1 million annually from $88,000 to $60,000 and divert that revenue to Title I — programs for low-income students — and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act curricula and toward the global fight against AIDS.

But a point of order was raised against the amendment, authored by Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), barring Democrats from offering it.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) chided Democrats, charging that they were trying to “raise taxes.” He said he thought he had stepped into a time warp , declaring that raising taxes was a relic of the ’70s.

Democrats hope to have more success later in the evening with an amendment that would bar the Labor Department from enacting rules changing the overtime eligibility requirements for workers.

The department has proposed amending the Fair Labor Standards Act to make some low-income workers eligible for overtime pay. But the same proposal would also strip eligibility from some white-collar workers who currently are able to collect time-and-a-half.

“This is another assault on the working families of America,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday.

She noted that the Republican leadership was unable to guarantee passage of a bill last month that would have allowed employers to offer compensation time in lieu of overtime pay to workers.

Union leaders and Democrats have charged that the Bush administration is trying to use regulatory means to accomplish what it was unable to legislatively.

“I think the secretary’s [of Labor] rules that have been promulgated are fair because they do elevate more than 1 million [blue-collar] workers” by making them eligible for overtime,” said Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), chairman of Appropriations subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education. The white-collar workers understand that working overtime is part of their jobs, he added.

Democrats hope to peel off enough pro-labor Republicans to prevail on the House floor. The vote is expected to be the closest of the day.

President Bush has issued a veto threat if the Labor Department amendment is included in the final bill.

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