Senate Committee OKs Labor Department Funding Cuts (1)

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By Tyrone Richardson

The Senate Appropriations Committee June 28 approved legislation that would decrease discretionary funding at the Labor Department.

The full committee on a 30-1 vote approved the funding legislation for the Labor and Health and Human Services departments. It would provide $12.1 billion in discretionary funding for the DOL for fiscal year 2019, about $92 million less than Congress provided last year. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) cast the sole no vote.

“The bill includes important funding increases for medical research and initiatives to fight the opioid epidemic, while also prioritizing education and job training opportunities,” committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said.

The legislation advances to the full Senate for consideration. Senate leaders are seeking to pass appropriations bills in coming weeks, while the House budget consideration has stalled amid immigration policy discussions.

The Senate bill would keep National Labor Relations Board funding at $274 million for fiscal 2019, which starts Oct. 1. The Senate bill’s NLRB funding numbers differ from those of the House proposal, which seeks to cut board funding by about 5 percent. The reduction in the House bill is less than what the White House seeks. The administration’s budget request put NLRB funding at $249 million.

NLRB leadership has pointed to possible budget cuts as a justification for tinkering with the agency’s field office organization and case processing procedures.

The DOL funding in the Senate bill closely mirrors the House legislation. The $12.1 billion the Senate measure provides would cut the agency’s spending by about 7 percent. That includes additional funds for apprenticeships and shedding some programs dubbed less effective for job development. Both the House and Senate bills would give the DOL more than the $10.9 billion the White House seeks in its budget request.

The White House’s budget proposal is usually seen as an administration wish list—an opening bid that may or may not influence what congressional lawmakers agree to for appropriations.

No Labor Policy Riders in Senate Bill

The Senate legislation is also free of several of the labor-related policy riders in the House version, including a provision to block the NLRB from exercising jurisdiction over businesses owned by tribal governments and operating on Indian land. That would mean workers at those businesses, such as casinos, wouldn’t have the right to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s ranking member, Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)., June 28 criticized the House policy riders. He called the riders “poison pill riders that cannot and will not pass the Senate.”

The House could likely pass appropriations with such policy riders in a GOP-majority vote. The Senate, however, has a harder path because Republicans would need the support of at least nine Democrats for the 60 votes required to pass this legislation. If the House and Senate pass their bills, the two chambers would eventually have to come together in conference to reconcile the measures.

Senate Rejects Trump’s Requested Cuts

The Senate bill rejects some of the requested cuts President Donald Trump included in his agency budget proposal earlier this year. The Senate measure would keep Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act grants at $2.8 billion for the next fiscal year. The White House’s request sought a reduction of about $80 million. The WIOA grants are used for training and other programs to help youth and adults gain access to jobs.

The Senate bill also seeks to provide $1.72 billion for Job Corps, the job-training program for underprivileged youth. That’s $15 million more than is appropriated for the current fiscal year and is a rejection of the White House’s request to cut funding by $422 million.

The Senate legislation also rejects the White House’s request to reduce the DOL’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs budget by about 77 percent. It would instead keep funding at $86 million.

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