Schools and defense were on the agenda on Capitol Hill this week, with the final spending levels far from settled.
The House passed a bill on May 14 that would authorize $6.4 billion for green school renovation and modernization projects for fiscal 2010. The bill passed 275-155, largely along party lines.
The bill stipulates that funds be used for projects that meet green building standards or equivalent state or local standards. The bill also requires that in 2015—the final year of funding—districts use 100% of the funds they receive for green projects.
One of the bill’s key sponsors, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, says the bill, called the 21st Century Green High-Performing School Facilities Act,would make the critical investments needed to bring our public schools into the 21st century, while breathing new life into local economies.”
But many Republicans oppose the bill. A key sticking point is likely to be the Davis-Bacon requirement for all grants, requiring workers to be paid prevailing wages. Critics also contend that the increase in funding for school construction projects would divert funds away from programs for disadvantaged and disabled children.
Howard (Buck) McKeon (Calif.), ranking Republican on the House education and labor panel, says the bill, “costs too much. It borrows too much. It controls too much. And it’s an area that, as federal legislators, we should not be intruding upon.”
The House passed a similar measure last year with bipartisan support, but a comparable effort in the Senate was ultimately unsuccessful.
Legislation providing at least $2 billion for Dept. of Defense construction projects is advancing in Congress.
The House on May 14 approved a $96.9-billion 2009 supplemental spending bill that provides more funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and also includes $3.2 billion for DOD construction, much of it directed to projects in the U.S., including "wounded-warrior" recovery and transition facilities and child-development centers.
A major DOD construction item in the bill, which the House passed on a 368-60 vote, is $1.06 billion for military hospitals. Appropriators didn't specify which projects should receive the hospital funding. Instead, they directed DOD to submit a spending plan for the hospital money within 30 days of the bill's enactment.
Besides the $1.06 billion, the measure also has $263.3 million to accelerate hospital projects in Bethesda, Md., and Fort Belvoir, Va. Under the current base-closure round those projects are planned to replace the current Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Both bills also have substantial funding for State Dept. embassy security, construction and maintenance. The House bill includes $990 million and the Senate committee measure has $821 million for embassies. The largest embassy item in both bills is about $736 million for facilities in Islamabad, Pakistan.
In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee on May 14 approved a $91.3-billion war supplemental, with $2.25 billion for DOD construction. The Senate committee's bill doesn't include the House-recommended $1.1 billion for DOD hospitals.
The Senate bill could move to the floor during the week of May 18, but a tough debate is expected over language that would provide $50 million to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility. Funds would be contingent on a DOD plan on how to use the money and restrictions on relocating prisoners.
Senate appropriators allocated $231 million for the Bethesda and Fort Belvoir hospital projects. The Senate committee trimmed $32.4 million that the administration requested for a gym and swimming pool at the Bethesda site. The House bill includes the full White House request for the project.