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Obama Issues Budget Veto Threat

By Alyson Klein — February 15, 2011 3 min read
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President Barack Obama just issued a veto threat on the House Republicans’ spending plan, which would cut education funding by nearly $5 billion for the current fiscal year.

Here are the exact words from the administration:

The Administration is committed to cutting spending and reducing the deficit so that current government spending does not add to the debt and has put forward a plan to do just that. However, the Administration does not support deep cuts that will undermine our ability to out-educate, out-build, and out-innovate the rest of the world. "The bill proposes cuts that would sharply undermine core government functions and investments key to economic growth and job creation, and would reduce funding for the Department of Defense to a level that would leave the Department without the resources and flexibility needed to meet vital military requirements. "If the President is presented with a bill that undermines critical priorities or national security through funding levels or restrictions, contains earmarks, or curtails the drivers of long-term economic growth and job creation while continuing to burden future generations with deficits, the President will veto the bill."

So there you go.

Remember, the current legislation that is financing the whole federal government—at last year’s levels—expires on March 4. So the administration, the Democratic-controlled Senate, and the Republican-controlled House are going to have to reach some sort of an agreement before then or the government will shut down. And GOP lawmakers feel very strongly that this bill is needed to restore fiscal sanity. It’s anyone’s guess what will happen.

The bill is on the House floor this week, and so far, there have been over 400 amendments filed. In order to be considered, an amendment that adds spending somewhere has to offset spending someplace else. That means, for instance, that an amendment introduced by Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., to restore all the money cut from Title I and special education isn’t going to fly, because he didn’t identify other spending cuts.

A few amendments that appear viable are really important to education:

• Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., the mother of a special-needs child, introduced an amendment that would restore the $557 million cut to special education state grants, which are currently financed at $11.5 million. To offset that, her amendment would cut $336 million out of the $545.6 million Title I School Improvement Grant program (which is not cut under the bill) and $500 million out of the $2.95 billion Improving Teacher Quality State Grant program.

• Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, offered an amendment zeroing out programs in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that are housed at the National Science Foundation. Guess he’s not a STEM fan? Or he thinks this duplicates the U.S. Department of Education’s efforts?

• Rep. John Kline, the chairman of House Education and Labor Committee, has an amendment that would prohibit the U.S. Department of Education from using funds under the bill to implement new regulations on “gainful employment.” This is a very hot and sexy issue in the higher ed. world. Great background here. The amendment has bipartisan support and is co-sponsored by Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., plus a number of other Democrats (and GOP lawmakers). But the Education Trust, an advocacy group in Washington that looks out for poor and minority kids, doesn’t think it’s a good idea.

• Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., a charter school fan, has an amendment that would end the federal prohibition on so-called “intermediaries” (aka funds that use private investment dollars for expanding quality charter schools) from receiving money under the federal charter school programs.

There are also amendments to further cut everything in the bill, or further cut everything in the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. And one amendment, by Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., would cut everything that’s funded above its authorized level. It’s tough to say how this would impact ESEA, because it only had authorization levels for five years, and we’re past that point.

Joel Packer, a principal at the Raben Group and a veteran edu-funding lobbyist extraordinaire, said that supporters of education funding don’t expect to be able to defeat the bill in the House, where the GOP has a clear majority. They’re hoping to persuade moderate Republicans who have supported education funding in the past and conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats to vote against the cuts, in the hopes that will give them more leverage once the Senate considers the bill.

My guess is that supporters of the bill will be leaning on those same folks to give a bipartisan (or moderate) stamp of approval to the cuts.

Photo: President Barack Obama answers questions during a White House news conference on Feb. 15. (Charles Dharapak/AP)