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CONGRESS BEGINS BUDGET DEBATE: House and Senate Budget Plans Accommodate President Obama’s Education Proposals

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“President Bush has left President Obama a hard hand to play: an economy in crisis and a budget in deep deficit—in deficit this year alone by $1.752 trillion.”

Earlier this year, President Obama released a budget outline for fiscal year (FY) 2010 that contained few actual numbers but proposed new investments in education, including an expansion of early childhood education, a focus on rigorous standards and assessments that are aligned to the demands of the global economy, efforts to better prepare and reward effective teachers and principals, and more opportunities for students to go to college and graduate. (Additional details on the president’s budget are expected later this month.)

“I’ve emphasized repeatedly what I expect out of this budget,” Obama said at a March 24 news conference, citing health care reform, clean-energy initiatives, a reduction in the deficit, and an “[investment] in education, K–12 and beyond, to upgrade the skills of the American worker so that we can compete in the international economy.”

Judging by the separate budget plans they passed last week, the House and Senate basically supported Obama’s priorities, including his education proposals. As House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-SC) explained, the House’s budget resolution supports the president’s proposals for “further investments in educating Americans,” and accommodates Obama’s plan to expand access to college and ensure that all children learn and achieve in elementary and secondary school.

“President Bush has left President Obama a hard hand to play: an economy in crisis and a budget in deep deficit—in deficit this year alone by $1.752 trillion,” said Spratt. “President Obama has responded with a budget that meets the challenge head-on. Our budget reflects his major priorities [and] … puts the budget back on a fiscally sustainable path while advancing key priorities in health care, energy, and education.”

According to the Senate Budget Committee, the Senate’s budget resolution “will lay the foundation for our nation’s long-term economic security,” specifically mentioning a reduction in dependence on foreign energy, excellence in education, and health care reform. “The budget resolution responds with investments in education that will generate economic growth and jobs, prepare our workforce to compete, make college more affordable, and hopefully improve student achievement,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-SD).

Republicans countered by saying that the Democrats’ plan failed to make tough choices and instead put all of the sacrifices on future generations. “The Democrats’ budget spends too much, taxes too much, and borrows too much,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH). “Short-term, it will hurt the economy and destroy jobs. Long-term, the consequences will be even more grave for our children and grandchildren—tripling our debt to unsustainable levels.”

Congress will begin negotiating the differences between the House and Senate budget resolutions when it returns from Easter recess during the week of April 20. One of the key differences that will need to be resolved is the amount of nondefense discretionary spending the budget resolution will permit. President Obama’s budget commits $539.7 billion for nondefense discretionary programs, which includes everything from education and health care to transportation and NASA, but it does not include mandatory programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The House plan would reduce nondefense discretionary spending by $7.1 billion compared to the president’s plan, while the Senate plan would reduce it by about $15 billion compared to the president’s budget.1

After the differences are ironed out, Congress will pass a Congressional Budget Resolution, which is a non binding spending blueprint that is not signed by the president but does set limits on the spending and tax legislation that Congress will consider for the rest of the year. Only the total amount of discretionary spending in the final budget resolution is binding on the appropriations committees. In total, the House plan would provide the Appropriations Committee with $1.089 trillion in discretionary spending, which is about $7 billion less than the president’s budget request and $8 billion more than the Senate plan.

1) The House and Senate plans assume exactly the same level of discretionary funding for defense as the president’s budget proposal ($556.1 billion in 2010, not including $130 billion in funding for Iraq and Afghanistan).

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