- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2008

The House on Wednesday night ignored a veto threat from the White House and approved a $6.4 billion Democrat-crafted bill to fund repairs and modernizations to school buildings across the country and require the improvements to meet environmentally friendly standards.

The bill passed on a 250-164 vote, with Democrats backing the bill 223-0 and Republicans opposed by a 164-27 margin.

Administration officials argue that the bill would create a massive, costly and inappropriate new role for the federal government in school construction. A statement from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on Tuesday said senior aides would recommend Mr. Bush veto the bill should it reach his desk.

Democrat leaders said school buildings are in dire need of repair and making these schools safer and more energy-efficient will help students learn, create new construction jobs and preserve the environment.

“The Bush administration is invoking its outdated philosophy of governing in opposing urgently needed investments in school buildings across the country that are literally crumbling,” said Rep. George Miller, California Democrat and chairman of the House education panel. “The American people … want help for their schools, and they want it now, and this legislation will provide it. When this bill reaches the president’s desk, he should do the right thing and sign it.”

The Democratic bill would call on Congress to spend $6.4 billion in 2009 for grants to local education agencies to fix public elementary- and high-school buildings. Projects could include replacing or installing roofs, electrical wiring, plumbing systems, heating or air-conditioning systems, removal of lead-based paint and asbestos or installing technology infrastructure.

It would give school officials until 2013 to make sure the majority of funds they receive under the grant program go toward projects that meet environmental and energy-efficiency standards detailed by approved programs such as Energy Star and the LEED Green Building Rating System.

The bill doesn’t specify how much money should be doled out in future years under the program, but the Congressional Budget Office estimated Congress would spend about $20 billion on it over the next five years.

Republicans said school repair and modernization hasn’t traditionally been a federal government role and that that shouldn’t change.

“That responsibility rests with state and local governments, and should remain there,” read Tuesday’s OMB statement.

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican, said the “real goal” of the bill is to pave the way for Washington officials to “exercise control” over how local officials fix their schools, down to the materials they select. He added, “I’d like to know where that $20 billion is going to come from.”

House Democratic aides said they hope that House approval will prompt the Senate to act. No companion bill has been introduced in the Senate.

The bill also calls for $500 million over five years to help rebuild schools in the Gulf Coast region that were destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

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