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The prospects for a Labor-HHS-Education spending bill will depend a great deal on the determination and involvement of two subcommittee chairmen, Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. Jack Kingston, who both are heading for the exit door at the end of the year.
On the House side, Kingston is locked in a crowded Republican primary for Georgia’s open Senate seat, where candidates are clamoring to prove their conservative credentials ahead of the May primary.
That’s likely to guide the policy provisions he pushes for during Labor-HHS-Education negotiations; Kingston was the only House GOP appropriator to vote against the fiscal 2014 omnibus (PL 113-76) in January, even though he helped negotiate the measure over the holiday recess.
Time pressures related to campaigning could also affect how much time Kingston devotes to the bill, said Jim Dyer, a former GOP staff director for the House Appropriations Committee who is now at the Podesta Group.
“Jack’s a big player here and how his time is going to be committed is a big issue,” Dyer said.
Kingston didn’t get much of a chance to affect the Labor-HHS-Education bill during his first year as chairman of that subcommittee in fiscal 2014. House GOP appropriators did not even release a draft spending bill because of anticipated opposition over the steep spending cuts called for under the House budget resolution.
“We’re going to let the committee process work,” Kingston said. “We’re going to let the hearings go forward and give people the chance at amendments, but it’s a difficult bill.”
Meanwhile, Harkin has made bringing the Labor-HHS-Education bill to the floor one of his main goals. “This is my last year here and I want to bring a [Labor-HHS-Education] bill to the floor,” said the Iowa Democrat, who said the last time the measure was considered on the Senate floor was in 2007.
But determination may not be enough to get the Labor-HHS-Education bill the necessary support to clear procedural hurdles in the chamber.
“Senate Republicans aren’t going to back off these issues just because it’s Harkin’s last year,” said the Committee for Education Funding’s Joel Packer, co-chairman of NDD United, a coalition group that pushes for more domestic discretionary spending.