Monday, November 12, 2007

"Combating Autism Act" Funding Caught in Legislative Wrangling; Bush Veto of Research, Awareness Dollars Possible

Millions of dollars in federal funding for scientific research into autism spectrum disorders and for public awareness campaigns is caught up in an ongoing budget battle between Congress and President George W. Bush, who has threatened to veto the spending bill in which these autism provisions are included.

That's the news in an important legislative update provided by the Autism Society of America, a major autism advocacy group based near Washington D.C. You can read a copy of the update at the society's website by clicking here.

The big picture here is that President Bush has decided, in the last part of his second term, to hold the line on domestic spending programs. A November 6 press release from Rep. David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, outlines how the Bush Administration and the Democrats in the House view a series of labor, health and education issues. Not surprisingly, the Iraq war plays into the politics of the situation. This is the way the introduction reads on Obey's press release:

WASHINGTON - Even as the President is asking for nearly $200 billion to cover the $10 billion a month we are spending in Iraq (paid for with borrowed money), he is trying to masquerade as fiscally responsible by manufacturing a fight over what we spend in roughly 2 months in Iraq ($22 billion) in investments that will make this a stronger and better country.
At the center of that fight is funding for the Departments of Labor, Health and Education. The conference report considered in the House today provides $150.7 billion, $6.2 billion (4.3%) above 2007 and $9.8 billion above the President’s request (roughly the cost of 1 month in Iraq) for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education.
What would that $9.8 billion achieve? Here are some specific examples.

Obey's statement goes on to outline the differences between the White House and the majority in Congress on issues including health care, job training, education, poverty programs and medical research. Obey notes that the House wants to spend more money on all of these programs and Bush wants to cut them, including special education funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

It is the medical research section that the Autism Society says advocates for people with autism should watch closely. The bill for Labor, Health and Human Services spending "provides $37 million for autism public awareness and early intervention—a $17 million increase over last year, as mandated by the Combating Autism Act of 2006," the Autism Society notes, and adds:

The bill also appropriates $16.5 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use toward surveillance and research and $1 million to reinstate the Inter-Agency Autism Coordinating Committee, which would develop a strategic plan for autism research at the National Institutes of Health.

President Bush has vowed to veto the bill because it asks for $9.8 billion more than his budget proposal. Unfortunately, there is not a veto-proof majority in either chamber, so additional negotiations will be needed.

This would be one of those times when it pays to be an engaged citizen. It would be worthwhile to educate yourself about where your House member and Senator stand on this funding bill. Because of Bush's staunch veto threat, it would be especially interesting to go through this effort if you have Republican representation in Congress, because those are the votes in the House and Senate which would be tougher to get if a veto override vote becomes necessary. Let's hope it doesn't.

Also see:

* Bush Signs Combating Autism Act

* More Autism Bulletin stories relating to Congress

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