Proposed Two-Week CR Would Make $4 Billion in Cuts
|Date Posted: February 28, 2011|
A two-week funding extension proposed by House Republicans last Friday would make $4 billion in budget cuts as a kind of down-payment on larger reductions in a yet-to-be-negotiated final bill for the current fiscal year 2011.
As part of a broad range of cuts hitting multiple agencies, the bill would terminate several small education programs that have been on presidential hit lists for years, as well as hundreds of earmarks for projects at local school districts across the country.
According to media reports, Senate Democrats have greeted the Republican plan with cautious optimism. Agreement about a short-term "continuing resolution," or CR, is necessary to avoid a government shutdown when the existing long-term CR ends March 4.
Among the education programs slated for termination are Even Start, the Leveraging Educational Assistance Program (LEAP), Striving Readers and Smaller Learning Communities. Altogether, funds culled from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) represent $890 million of the proposed savings in the bill, with the remainder coming from a variety of other agencies, including, among others, the U.S. Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Energy, as well as agencies responsible for building and maintaining dams, harbors and levees.
These cuts are only a fraction of a larger package passed in mid-February by the House Republicans. That package would finish budget work left undone when Congress adjourned for the elections last fall. At that time, the legislature enacted a CR authorizing agencies to spend at the same rate as in 2010 until March 4. Taking up the matter a couple of weeks ago, House Republicans crafted a full-year bill cutting $61 billion from the 2010 levels, a level that would dramatically scale back government operations and set up a clash with the Democratic-controlled Senate, which opposes such draconian cuts.
To buy time for the hard bargaining ahead, House GOP leaders on Friday unveiled a short-term CR containing $4 billion in less-controversial cuts that would give their conservatives an initial achievement while not antagonizing Senate Democrats. According to a press release issued by the House Appropriations Committee, the proposed spending cuts "have been previously supported in a bipartisan way by members of the House and Senate, as well as the White House."
The new CR would end March 18. The White House has taken no public position on the proposal.
Program terminations make up $1.24 billion of the $4 billion in cuts in the bill. The biggest single cut is $650 million from highways, but a total of $468 million would come from U.S. Department of Education programs. The $1.24 billion in program terminations would be rounded out with $75 million in election assistance grants, $29 million in rural broadband loan subsidies and $30 million for Smithsonian Institution renovations.
Education programs proposed for termination consist of:
- Striving Readers - $250 million. This program focuses on improving the reading skills of middle- and high-school students. Although the Republican appropriations committee is technically correct that President Obama has proposed to terminate the program, it neglects to mention that the administration has proposed to replace it with a broader reading program. This may foreshadow a Republican strategy of accepting administration cuts but ignoring its proposals to replace the terminated programs with other initiatives.
- Even Start - $66 million. This long-standing family literacy program at one time reached $250 million in annual appropriations, but funding was slashed in the wake of evaluations that deemed it ineffective. It has held on at the level of $66 million for several years, despite proposals from both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to kill it.
- Smaller Learning Communities - $88 million. This program was intended to establish smaller "learning communities" within larger high schools, on the theory that they would help avoid student alienation and permit greater teacher engagement with individual students. However, according to the House Appropriations Committee, research has cast doubt on its effectiveness. The Obama administration had proposed to kill it as well.
- LEAP - $64 million. This very old program provides matching funds for states to establish need-based college aid programs. Because this goal was achieved long ago, this program has been a perennial target for elimination under presidents from both parties.
Hundreds of Earmarks Gone
Another $2.7 billion would be derived by cutting hundreds of "earmarks," which are grants set aside in an appropriations bill for a specific named (or thinly disguised) recipient. These permit individual legislators to direct funds to favored constituents and other parties for particular projects. Once a relatively rare phenomenon, earmarks really got rolling during the 1980s, and recent appropriations bills have contained thousands, although their total share of federal spending is actually quite modest.
In one of the biggest single hits in the bill, ED's "Innovation and Improvement" account would lose nearly $88.8 million earmarked for 282 individual projects in fiscal year 2010. The 2010 list included a host of small projects at local school districts, nonprofits, Boys and Girls Clubs, and colleges. Most of the awards were for no more than $100,000 or $200,000, with only three exceeding a million dollars.
The biggest single cut on the list would be $7.3 million for the Harkin Grant Program, a longstanding earmark sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who chairs the Senate education appropriations subcommittee. The program funds school construction and renovation in his home state.
Representative earmarks on last year's list include:
- $100,000 for the Irwin County Schools, Ocilla, Ga., to purchase textbooks
- $250,000 for Girls Incorporated of Alameda County, Calif., for a literacy program for young girls, which may include equipment and software
- $750,000 for Mississippi State University for development of an early childhood teacher education delivery system
- $150,000 for Save the Children, Albuquerque, N.M., for a New Mexico rural literacy and after-school program
Some of the 2010 earmarks were intended to be one-time grants, with no expectation of being repeated. In these cases, the 2010 grantees would not actually lose funds; the Republican bill would simply make an equivalent sum unavailable for new earmarks in the 2011 bill.
Annually renewed earmarks peppered throughout the rest of the 2010 appropriations bill would be deleted as well. These include funds for the Center for Civic Education, Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, Inc., New Leaders for New Schools, and many others.
Given both parties' stated commitment to the elimination of earmarks, this may be just the start. The unhappy response of disappointed constituents may challenge this resolve, however.
Senate Democrats have yet to weigh in on the House Republican proposal, so the $4 billion in proposed cuts is by no means a done deal. But the package may be just the symbolic budget-cutting gesture needed to give both sides breathing room for the real negotiations to begin.
Thompson Publishing Group will keep you apprised of further developments in the continuing budget drama.